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:  Fool Me Twice by Meredith Duran

REVIEW: Fool Me Twice by Meredith Duran

Fool Me Twice by Meredith DuranDear Ms. Duran:

When I read the blurb for this book, I was a little uneasy: “Running for her life, exhausted and out of options, Olivia Holladay wants nothing more than the chance to make a home for herself. So when she realizes that the infamous Duke of Marwick might hold the key to her freedom, she boldly disguises herself as the newest and bravest in a long line of the duke’s notoriously temperamental housekeepers. Little does she know that the wickedly handsome Alastair de Grey has very different plans for her. ” I tried to figure out why I disliked this plotline and I think it’s not so much that I dislike it but that it makes me anxious. Deception-from-the-start storylines are tricky; on the one hand, I guess it’s good that I’m already invested enough to care about when the heroine will be found out and how much conflict this will cause with the hero. On the other hand, if I wanted reading material to make me queasy I’d read in the car more often.

So, Olivia and Alastair, the aforementioned duke, each appeared in the previous book in the series, That Scandalous Summer. She is (or was) the proper and buttoned-up secretary to that book’s flighty and scandalous heroine, whereas he is the older brother of the hero. IIRC, Alastair played a bigger part in That Scandalous Summer; he was devastated by his wife’s death and by certain revelations about her character, and took it out on Michael, the hero, by trying to control who he married. Olivia was just sort of in the background, though it was a discovery she made as Elizabeth’s secretary in that book that brings her to the duke’s doorstep in this one.

Alastair de Grey, the Duke of Marwick, is a mess. His wife died shockingly and suddenly in a hotel room, and shortly after Alastair discovered that she cuckolded him with any number of men. Worse still, with powerful men, to whom she passed on political secrets Alastair had shared with her. For Alastair isn’t just a duke; he’s a political mover-and-shaker with aspirations to be Prime Minister one day. Both the personal betrayal and the knowledge that he might be thrust into public ignominy (a position he’s avoided like the plague his whole like because his parents were both infamous wastrels) have brought Alastair to his knees; he hasn’t left his house in the better part of a year and in fact spends all of his time in his rooms brooding, drinking and imagining killing his wife’s lovers.

Olivia is on the run; since leaving home at 17 she’s feared her mother’s erstwhile lover, Bertram. Bertram tried to discourage Olivia from coming to London (to go to secretarial school) after her mother died. When Olivia defied him and did arrive in London, she was met at the train station by Bertram’s servant, who proceeded to take her to an isolated country road and strangle her. Left for dead in a ditch, Olivia has been looking over her shoulder ever since, and she’s afraid she’s been found. But for the first time in a long time Olivia has hope; she happened to stumble across evidence at her former employer’s that she believes she can use to blackmail Bertram into leaving her alone. The problem is, the evidence is now apparently locked up in the Duke of Marwick’s residence. So Olivia plots to gain entry by getting hired as a maid. It’s a sign of how badly the house has descended into chaos that she actually not only gets hired, but is asked to temporarily take on the role of head housekeeper (at the unlikely age of 25; her lack of years is made up for by the control she quickly exerts over the staff, who have been slacking hardcore since the master retreated to his rooms).

Once ensconced in Alastair’s home, Olivia begins discreetly searching for the missing evidence. She quickly concludes that they must be in the duke’s rooms. Her first attempt to draw him out of the rooms so she can search them is less than successful – Marwick throws a bottle at her head. But soon the two are sparring in typical and time-honored hero/heroine fashion, and Alastair is beginning to come reluctantly back to life. Olivia finds that she cares not just for finding the letters that will protect her, but about setting Alastair’s home to rights and, if she can, reminding him that he is a brilliant man whose country needs him. (She discovers his brilliance by reading his writings on all manner of subjects, while looking for her elusive evidence. Alastair is, of course, a reform-minded liberal who really cares about The Poor, even though he’s a duke. This part was a little too good to be true for me, much like his brother Michael’s role as doctor to the downtrodden/rake extraordinaire was in the previous book.)

So, this is where it starts to get crunchy. Olivia has mixed motives, and the reader knows that Alastair is going to discover her secrets  sooner or later. It’s that much worse because Alastair has already been devastated by a very personal betrayal by a woman he trusted and loved. When it came time to pay the piper I was uncomfortable with Alastair’s vengefulness (especially given the power differential between him and Olivia), but at the same time I couldn’t say that his anger was unexpected or unreasonable, given the circumstances. Dude has good reason to be angry.

There’s nothing about Fool Me Twice that is groundbreaking or even particularly original, at least in terms of plot and characterization. The starchy heroine with a backbone of steel is familiar, as is the imperious aristocrat brought low (though I do in particular like the latter type of character). There was a plot twist in the middle of the story that was telegraphed pretty clearly ahead of time, and another later that ended up surprising me. I also did like Alastair’s solution to the problem of the letters in the end; it was courageous and showed that he’d grown as a person.

I also liked Alastair’s attempts to make amends with his brother Michael. His behavior towards Michael in That Scandalous Summer was truly unconscionable and hurt innocent people (when Michael didn’t bend to Alastair’s will, Alastair shut down the hospital for the poor that he’d been funding). Once Alastair has recovered from his breakdown, he is truly ashamed and repentant and the tentative quality of their reconciliation was touching (and felt more true to life than those times where one character forgives the other instantly no matter how heinous the behavior involved).

Where this story really comes together is in the fact that it does each of its parts well: prose, plot, characterization. I expect nothing less from this author, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate a good historical romance, done well. My grade for Fool Me Twice is a high B+.

Best regards,

Jennie

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Reading List by Jennie for January and February

Reading List by Jennie for January and February

I also read and reviewed VilletteThrown for a CurveThe Countess Conspiracy and Freeing during these months.

dance with dragonsA Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin

This is the fifth and, for now, the last book in the A Song of Ice and Fire (otherwise known as Game of Thrones) series. It’s also long. Really, really long. I’ve been reading it since the first of the year and have just now reached the 50% mark. I guess on the plus side there will be less of a lapse between this book and The Winds of Winter for me, which is definitely a good thing; I have enough trouble keeping characters straight as it is, without a five-year wait between books. Anyway, I’m enjoying seeing some of the perspectives missing from book four, A Feast for Crows (books four and five were originally one book, split when it became too unwieldy). It’s especially nice to see Daenerys again. Though things are going so bad for Dany, it’s almost hard to read about. Who knew being the Mother of Dragons would be such a drag? Anyway, someday I’ll finish this and then be as caught up as I can be with doings in Westeros and such (the main advantage of which is that I can’t be inadvertently spoiled).

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six womenSix Women of Salem by Marilynne K. Roach

I heard about this book earlier this year (I believe the author was on The Daily Show) and was intrigued. I’ve long had a bit of a fascination with the Salem Witch Trials, dating back to reading The Crucible in middle school. This book focuses on six women central to the witch trials: the slave Tituba, both accused and accuser, the tragic accused, elderly Rebecca Nurse, accusers Ann Putnam and Mary Warren (Putnam especially doesn’t come off sympathetically at all) and accused Bridget Bishop and Mary English. I thought this was smart as these women really represented a cross-section of Salem society. I was a little hesitant about the author’s conceit of interjecting italicized passages in which she imagines the women’s thoughts and speaks from their points of view, but ultimately the device is used judiciously and sparingly, and it didn’t feel like Roach went too far in her speculation. I gave this book a B+.

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sweetSweet by Erin McCarthy

Reviewed here. I really liked True, the first book in the series, even though it’s an over the top mish-mash of new adult/romance cliches (okay, perhaps BECAUSE it’s an OTT mish-mash of NA/romance cliches, but well done). I was intrigued by the pairing of Jessica and Riley; I’m not sure why I waited to buy and read this one. It turned out to be slightly less intense than the first book; Riley is less of a bad boy than Tyler, and Jessica, predictably, is not as much of a bad girl as previously advertised. I wish McCarthy had let her be; I was particularly irritated that despite Jessica’s party girl rep and Riley’s habitual monkishness, we just had to have a scene in which it’s made clear that he’s had more sexual partners than her. Because heaven forbid it be the other way around. Sigh. Also, the rather superficial depiction of the poverty of Riley’s family was a little distasteful. Still, this was entertaining enough to earn a B from me.

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believeBelieve by Erin McCarthy

I think it was actually the review here that made me get around to buying and reading Sweet, and I liked that book enough to buy Believe after I finished it, in spite of the issues that the review outlines. I feel like this series has gotten increasingly married to traditional gender depictions in a way that doesn’t really thrill me. The romance between Robin and Phoenix is actually rather sweet and low-conflict. But putting aside the question of whether Robin’s sexual encounter with Nathan was or was not rape (it certainly reads like it, but since she doesn’t believe it is, I’m hesitant to call it that), the way she “reforms” after it occurs has a fair helping of (subtle and not-so-subtle) slut shaming. I mean, if a person wants to start dressing differently and wearing less makeup, well, that’s a personal choice. It’s not a reflection on her worth as a person or how “real” she’s being. I think McCarthy’s pulled back a bit on the realistic depiction of college culture, with its hookups, drinking and drugging.  Robin’s whole drinking drama was a bit uneven and preachy;  her decision to stop drinking after the incident was understandable, but I never got the sense that she was actually an alcoholic until late in the book, when things turn abruptly after-school-specialish. Anyway, I gave this a B-. I will likely read the next book, if only to see some deeper resolution between Robin and Kylie.

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Nicole Camden Nekkid TruthThe Nekkid Truth by Nicole Camden

I got this from the Daily Deals based on the strong recommendation; plus, the price was unbeatable. It’s reviewed here. I ended up finding it a little strange. The heroine’s disability wasn’t well-explained (or at least not to my satisfaction), and I couldn’t help but wonder why the people who knew her didn’t identify themselves immediately upon greeting her, which is what I’d do if I ever encountered someone with that condition. (And if, heaven forbid, I ever suffered from such a condition, I’d immediately instruct/nag/beg everyone I knew to do the same with me.) The romance was hot, but suffered a little for me from having so much backstory that we only got in dribs and drabs. I did like the characters, and the writing, though rough in spots, worked well for me. I’d try this author again. My grade was B.

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Zelda: A Biography by Nancy MilfordZelda: A Biography by Nancy Milford

Continuing (sort of) my habit of reading about writers whose works I haven’t even read (I’m embarrassed; I’ve never made it through The Great Gatsby, though I do intend to someday!), I picked up this biography of Zelda Fitzgerald (though it really covers Scott and Zelda almost equally). What can I say about it? It was depressing. It’s depressing to read about alcoholics and the mentally ill. And then they die young. (Side note: Is this like complaining that the food at the restaurant was terrible, and the portions were skimpy?) Anyway, I guess I was hoping for a little more Jazz Age glamor, and we do get some of that, but the monsters are always lurking underneath the surface. The author is fairly even-handed in presenting both “sides”, if you’re inclined to take a side in Scott v. Zelda. He definitely used a lot of their lives in his writing, and so in a sense used her, while being terribly jealous and controlling about her own writing efforts. On the other hand, he was more patient than one would expect a self-absorbed genius to be of the vagaries of her illness. Her obsessive mid-life attempt to be a ballerina just about drove ME crazy, and I was just reading about it. This was a B.

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