Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

About Jennie

http://dearauthor.com/author/jennie/

has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

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REVIEW:  Three Weeks With Lady X by Eloisa James

REVIEW: Three Weeks With Lady X by Eloisa James

Three Weeks With Lady X by Eloisa JamesDear Ms. James:

The title of your latest book calls to mind something illicit, if not downright salacious. The reality was a bit tamer, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Lady Xenobia India St. Clair was given an unconventional upbringing by two nobly-born but free-spirited parents. Since she was left without a dowry when they died, India went into a profession of sorts, as an expert in interior decorating/temporary life management for her godmother’s aristocratic friends. It’s in this capacity that she meets Tobias “Thorn” Dautry, the illegitimate son of the Duke of Villiers.

Thorn had a rough start in life; his father apparently made arrangements to have his many illegitimate children cared for, but something went awry and Thorn ended up spending his early childhood as a mudlark, scouring the banks of the Thames for treasures to sell under the direction of a cruel and violent master. Eventually, his father the duke relocated the son he misplaced, along with the rest of his bastards, I believe. I think this is all detailed in an earlier book, one I’m not inclined to read. A “hero” who drops by-blows all over the place and then screws up taking care of them isn’t one I’m all that interested in. But anyway, from the age of 11 or 12, Thorn was raised in the ducal home, beloved by his father and stepmother, and sent to school as befits aristocratic offspring. He’s since gone on to become an astute and successful businessman. The one thing Thorn doesn’t have is legitimacy, and while it doesn’t seem to bother him too much, he does intend to use his enormous wealth to find a suitable bride who will bring him, and the children they eventually have, respectability and social standing.

He thinks he’s found a worthy candidate in Laetitia Rainsford, a pretty, noble and sweet-tempered young miss. Sure, she also has a reputation of being dumber than a box of hair, but Thorn doesn’t see that as an impediment to a successful marriage. In his quest to get through Laetitia’s dragon of a mother, who is not happy about having to sell her daughter to a bastard, Thorn arranges to buy a country manse, sight unseen. The seller was a somewhat notorious lord who apparently held orgies and other bacchanalian events in the house. Thorn’s stepmother arranges to have India, with whom she is friendly, whip the property into shape in preparation for a house party at which Thorn hopes to press his suit with Laetitia.This all affords an excellent opportunity, of course,  for Thorn and India to be thrown together quite a lot.

India has been thinking about marriage as well. Her childhood was scarcely better than Thorn’s – for all that they were aristocrats, her parents were cash-poor, eccentric and given to dancing naked in the moonlight. She often went hungry as a child, since they were apparently too poor or bohemian or something to think about actually feeding her. (I would’ve liked a better idea of just what it was that India’s parents were so into that they forgot to feed their child; it’s not really explained that well.)  So she’s had a somewhat lonely life, at least until her parents died (want to guess how? I’ll give you three guesses. It rhymes with “carriage accident”) and she went to live with her godmother. India”s aware that her profession puts her somewhat on the edges of the society she rightfully belongs to, and she’d like to find a husband befitting the daughter of a marquess and have a family of her own. She agrees to take on the herculean project of fixing up Thorn’s new estate as sort of a last hurrah, both as a favor to her friend and because she finds it hard to resist a challenge.

It’s not just the project that turns out to be a challenge; India and Thorn clash immediately and repeatedly. I’m not usually a huge fan of characters who fall in love through bickering, unless it’s done really well. It’s actually done pretty well here, so I didn’t mind it, but for one aspect that got progressively more aggravating for me.

Look, I know that “Eloisa James” is not synonymous with “Georgette Heyer.” I expect, if not quite “wallpaper historicals”, books that take liberties with the mores and behaviors of the times. And I’ve long reluctantly accepted that egregious mental lusting is a ubiquitous feature in most historical romances (maybe most romances, period). But the frankness with which Thorn and India (Thorn mostly) talk and joke about sex is not at all realistic to the time period, as I understand it. Hell, even in a contemporary, I’d probably get icked out by all of the juvenile double entendres between an employee and employer. (And it’s not just Thorn; at one point his father the duke makes a risque joke in mixed company. Which I guess would explain where he gets it from, but doesn’t make it feel any less anachronistic or just plain rude.) I really wish all of the verbal foreplay had been toned way down.

I found myself most intrigued by and fond of two ancillary characters. The first was Laetitia Rainsford. She’s NOT stupid, though she believes herself to be. She appears to be dyslexic and a have a related tendency towards being very shy and tongue-tied, but when we get her POV she’s quite a sympathetic character. The other character I loved was Rose, a little girl who is dropped off at Thorn’s after her parents die (her father was an old friend of Thorn’s from his days as a mudlark). Rose is suspected by several characters of being Thorn’s bastard, necessitating her being hid in the dower house during the house party. She’s a preternaturally mature and self-possessed five-year-old. Precocious little kids in fiction can be tricky, but Rose’s grave maturity was very appealing.

India was not a particularly finely drawn character, but she’s fairly appealing and sympathetic. She has some insecurities over her difficult childhood. She doesn’t apologize for her lush figure; as a child who never knew when or where her next meal would come from, she’s too grateful for reliable food to turn it away. But she’s insecure over her mastery of proper grammar, which was a nice little telling detail that softened her sharp edges a bit.

Thorn was a fairly bland and paint-by-numbers hero. There were intriguing aspects to his personality – his interest in business seemed to go a little deeper than that of your average self-made man in historical romance, for one (he’s something of an inventor, apparently). He has some trauma related to the fact that his mother abandoned him and apparently never looked back; she died when he was 12 and so he never knew her. But none of it is given enough time or attention to ever really resonate. I did think his relationship with Rose was sweet; he took to being her surrogate father quickly and convincingly.

The last third of the book involved a lot of running around and teeth gnashing over who loves/doesn’t love who and who is too good/not good enough for who. It was just a bit tiresome, though I have to say that my heartstrings were tugged a tad at the end almost in spite of myself, which is why I’ll bump up my grade from a C+ to a B-.

Best regards,

Jennie

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REVIEW:  Between the Devil and Ian Eversea by Julie Ann Long

REVIEW: Between the Devil and Ian Eversea by Julie Ann...

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Dear Ms. Long:

Does it sound negative to say that it feels like your Pennyroyal Green series has been going on for ages? I don’t mean for it to – I was surprised to see that the publication date of book one in the series, The Perils of Pleasure, was 2008. Why does it feel like it’s been going on so much longer? Maybe it’s because Between the Devil and Ian Eversea is the 9th book in the series; I don’t often stick with series for that long (though conversely I sometimes stick with them longer than I want to, if only because I kind of hate to give up in the middle of a series).

My general impression of the Pennyroyal Green series is that it’s a bit uneven. When I started reading Between the Devil and Ian Eversea, it occurred to be that the series seems to be focusing more on the Everseas than their village rivals, the Redmond. A quick review of the books in the series indicates that that’s not really true; the number of Eversea and Redmond books are about equal. What I did notice is that by my hazy recollection, the Eversea books are generally more interesting and memorable, and perhaps received better grades from me, than the Redmond ones. I could check my log to see if my recollection is accurate, but I think maybe no one needs a Sabermetrics-style analysis of my reading of the Pennyroyal Green series.

(I’m not sure I ever even read How the Marquess was Won, which seems by the blurb to be about neither the Redmonds nor the Everseas, but about a marquess who is pursuing one of the Redmond daughters when his attention is caught by her companion. Hmm. Maybe I should go back and try that one.)

So, onto this book: American Titania “Tansy” Danforth has come to England to stay with her relative, the Duke of Falconbridge. He’s the hero of What I Did For a Duke, and his wife is Genevieve, née Eversea. Tansy is actually English by birth; her family moved to America when she was a child. Her father and the duke were friends and cousins, and long ago the duke had promised his friend that he would find a suitable husband for Tansy. Tansy’s family is all gone now (her brother in the War of 1812, and her parents in a carriage accident, surely the number one killer of heroines’ parents in historical romances; those things must have been death traps). She’s alone in the world, but she has beauty and a fortune and it’s up to the duke to make a great match for her.

The duke and duchess are staying with the Everseas in Pennyroyal Green as they search for a suitable home in the area (presumably, Genevieve wants to be closer to her family), so it’s actually the Eversea manse that Tansy arrives at, trailing a lovesick Italian with whom she carried on a shipboard flirtation. The unfortunate swain is dispatched, and Tansy proceeds to charm everyone she meets instantly and repeatedly. The only exceptions are two of the Everseas: Genevieve’s sister Olivia (who is kind of hardened and cold; I suspect it’s because she’s so sick of waiting for her book to come around) and their brother Ian. Ian Eversea seems like every other Eversea hero (granted, my memory of the previous ones is hazy) and a good number of English historical romance heroes in general: devil may care on the surface, but secretly scarred in mind and body by wartime experiences, and of course a total man-whore. He’s also, rather entertainingly, immune to Tansy’s immense appeal, at least at first. Tansy wishes she could say the same about Ian; she is so instantly and totally attracted to the young man that her usual sangfroid quite deserts her in his presence. It’s so bad that Ian starts to wonder if Tansy is perhaps simple or a bit touched in the head. This was amusing and I appreciated that it wasn’t insta-lust on both sides, though I felt a bit sorry for Tansy, who is used to having men fall at her feet and doesn’t understand why the one man she actually wants seems indifferent to her.

Ian’s indifference, is, of course, temporary, and sooner enough both are lusting after each other. But there are barriers to any courtship between Ian and Tansy. For one, Ian is shortly planning on leaving for a long sea voyage; he’s expected to be gone for years. Also, in What I Did For a Duke, Ian was caught by the duke seducing the duke’s then-fiancee, a situation that caused a great deal of tension between the two men, some of which remains. The duke would *never* let Tansy marry a rogue like Ian Eversea.

Between the Devil and Ian Eversea was a little bit of a rollercoaster for me. It started off strong; the effect Tansy has on people, men in particular, was comical. She knows what she’s doing and does it very well. As I noted, I rather liked that Ian didn’t fall into immediate lust with Tansy; in fact, for various reasons, he rather dislikes her at first. But as the two get to know each other, the story becomes both more conventional and bit more oblique. I felt like the underlying reasons for the ways that Tansy and Ian behaved were hinted at a lot but could’ve used a more direct explication. I always feel kind of bad when I think that about a story; I don’t like to think of myself as a reader who needs things spelled out in big neon letters. If anything, I appreciate show-not-tell writing. But in this case I felt like there were little hints and portents of their actions (for instance, Ian observes Tansy on the balcony of her bedroom, attempting to light a cigarette, an action he finds somewhat shocking) that made it seem like the explanation would be more dramatic or lead to a great emotional catharsis, and that’s not the case. Tansy is a flirt because…actually, I’m not sure that’s even explained; if it is, I’ve already forgotten the explanation. I mean, it’s fine if she’s just a natural flirt but it’s clear that Tansy goes out of her way to win people over; she’s actually somewhat manipulative at times (in a fairly benign way, albeit). It’s clear that she misses her family and is lonely, but it’s not clear whether her attempts to conquer hearts is an outgrowth of that loneliness or something she did even before her parents died. That aspect of her personality could have used a little more in-depth coverage, I think.

Ian is a man-whore and adventure-seeker because…of war, I guess? I don’t know. He was in the war, though I don’t know if it was ever mentioned *what* war, exactly. I suppose some of these holes in my understanding of the story could be my fault (my memory is not what it used to be), but I also think it points to a certain hazy quality to the storytelling.

Though I ultimately felt that Ian was a less well-drawn character than Tansy, I think that his slow falling in love with her was well portrayed. That’s one of the strengths of having your hero (or heroine) not fall into insta-love/lust: you get to watch the person actually have to reconsider their prejudices and discover the other person’s strengths and virtues. Now that is something that I find romantic.

My grade for Between the Devil and Ian Eversea is a B-.

Best regards,

Jennie

 

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