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REVIEW: The Marquess of Cake by Heather Hiestand

REVIEW: The Marquess of Cake by Heather Hiestand

Dear Ms. Hiestand,

I was having a rocking good time with this book until exactly the 58% mark, at which point it seemed to jump some sort of storyline river, where extra development should have been or was and then got massively cut. It annoyed me so much I noticed the rest of the inconsistencies in characterization throughout the latter half of the book more than I would have otherwise.

Note: I first read this book some months ago and wrote most of this review then (and forgot I had), but I couldn’t help feeling like I had exaggerated the annoyance I felt. So I decided to read it again (I never re-read) to see if I had been unfair. I hadn’t. I feel exactly the same way on re-read as I did then. But I didn’t know how to grade this then and I’m still not sure.

Coffee . . . tea . . . or a pastry chef sweeter than any confection . . .

Scotch trifle fit for Queen Victoria, scones with clotted cream . . . Alys Redcake knows the way to a man’s heart. Yet she is unaware that with each morsel—and flash of ankle—she is seducing the handsome marquess frequenting her father’s tea shop. Unmarried at twenty-six, Alys’s first love is the family business. But thoughts of the gentleman’s touch are driving her to distraction . . .

With his weakness for sugar, the Marquess of Hatbrook can imagine no more desirable woman than one scented with cake and spice. Mistaking Alys for a mere waitress, he has no doubt she would make a most delicious mistress. And when he finds himself in need of an heir, he plans to make her his convenient bride. Yet as they satisfy their craving for one another, business and pleasure suddenly collide. Will Hatbrook’s passion for sweets—and for Alys—be his heart’s undoing?

Alys’s father has climbed his way to wealth from the pits of poverty via pastry, to the point he has been granted knighthood by Queen Victoria. Part of his method was to work his oldest three children in his fledgling factory beginning at the age of 8. As a result, they are not given an education. The oldest child was physically weak and perished, leaving Alys and her twin, Gawain, behind. Once the family achieves some wealth, their father sends Gawain to India and along come two more girls to the family, both of whom, because of the family’s newfound wealth, get educations and finishing school so that they might attract the attention of a noble in need of funds and not particular that it comes from the merchant class. Because Alys has always worked in her father’s factory and then in the storefront bakery he later opens, and is uneducated and unrefined, she is seen as an object of derision by her younger sisters.

All that aside, Alys loves her occupation as a cake decorator and her gift for charming nobles into spending money on her confections. Because of an event that happened years before, she does not want to marry, but at twenty-six, she really has no reason to think she is in danger of such a state. Until her father decrees that, as the eldest daughter of a newly minted knight, she is unfit to work at her chosen occupation and fires her, breaking her heart and putting her future in a flux not of her choosing.

In the meantime, she has met Michael Shield, Marquess Hatbrook, who is a sugar addict with a bad case of either hypoglycemia or early-onset diabetes type 2. I don’t know where I read this tidbit, but it’s the reason I picked up this book because not all disabilities revolve around ones people can see. He is unreasonably aware of and craving different pastries almost nonstop, it seems. In fact, he is initially attracted to Alys because she smells like cake.

Her body pressed against him. He scented that delectable perfume of hers. Eau de Redcake’s.

The writing is lovely. There are many little sections that I found clever, particularly when it comes to Michael’s attention to pastry:

Michael [toyed] with Theo’s plate. It was covered with crumbs and he wondered what Theo had been eating. It looked like a red, seedless jam had been involved.

Michael’s illness is handled very well, especially for the time period, as Alys is observant and insightful, and, with good ol’ common sense, can put two and two together to come up with a decent meal plan to help him (and his mother, who has the same problem). I would not be surprised if the author has some close experience with hypoglycemia and diabetes and its progression.

The characterization is consistent and I really feel for the position her newly knighted craptastic father puts her in. Alys is no-nonsense and Michael is a sweetheart. The sex scenes were lovingly drawn.

But then we hit the part where Alys has a personality and/or motivation transplant, and a previously smart and pragmatic woman does something out of character, and then compounds that by turning stupid.

She has sex with Michael, which would be fine and all, but it was at an odd place in the story, as if someone had said, “We need a sex scene at 58%. Put it in.” And to do that, Alys’s previously bad experience and subsequent inexperience, and all her previous ruminations about what she wants out of life, has to get tossed by the wayside on a moment’s notice.

Then, when circumstances change so that Michael feels he should offer her marriage, this previously smart and pragmatic woman says no, for no good reason. She has a reason, but it’s flimsy at best. It was as if someone said, “Now that they’ve had sex, make her refuse his offer of marriage because reasons.”

Michael is a good communicator. He tells her exactly what he wants from her and why (because he’s very attracted to her and she’s smart and he likes that), but she refuses to believe it. Instead, she decides he must want A, but then she thinks he must want B, but then she thinks he must want C, and none of them are what he flat-out told her he wanted at the 58% mark. And she’s doing this for no reason I can tell. It’s as if someone said, “And I want a Big Misunderstanding here.”

After the 58% mark, the rest of the book was an exercise in frustration and I may have acquired whiplash from all of Alys’s back-and-forthing. Because up to that point, everything was progressing logically and I was seriously invested in the story (as in A-grade invested), I was that much more frustrated with the rest of the book.

I’ve read the book twice now, months apart, and my opinion didn’t change. A for the first 58% and a D for the rest of it for needless trope mongering. C+

~July
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Review: How Hard Can It Be? by Robyn Peterman

Review: How Hard Can It Be? by Robyn Peterman

Dear Ms. Peterman,

This book was the most fucked-up bag of wonderful crazy ever. I will say right up front that it’s getting a B because as a romance it works on the surface, but the hero isn’t deeply drawn and the real romance going on in the book takes a back seat to the wonderful crazy.

What happens when an accountant decides to grab life by the horns and try something new? Apparently a pirate named Dave, a lot of pastel fleece, and blackmail—just to start with . . .

Visualize and succeed, Oprah said. I was sure as hell trying, even if my campaign to score a job as the local weather girl had ended in a restraining order. Okay, TV was not my strength. But a lack of talent has never stopped me before. Which is why I’ve embarked on a writing career. I mean, how hard can it be to come up with a sexy romance?

Leave it to me to wind up in a group of porno writing grannies who discuss sex toys and apple cobbler in the same breath. Also leave it to me to leak an outlandish plot idea to a bestselling author with the morals of a rabid squirrel. And only I could get arrested for a jewelry heist I didn’t commit—by a hunky cop whose handcuffs just might tempt me to sign up for a life of crime. Maybe I’ve found my calling after all . . .

I found you by way of your novella, “Pirate Dave and His Randy Adventures: A Career-Ending Spoof.” Since the novella is the book the heroine wrote, I figured I should read the heroine’s book before I tackled the spoof.

How Hard Can It Be? by Robyn PetermanI decided to try this in spite of the fact that I don’t like slapstick comedy or humiliation humor, and I figure there’s a 50/50 chance of a book like this with such a cartoony cover could be exactly what I don’t like. But I got lucky.

Rena, an accountant with an over-the-top personality who doesn’t fit in at her office, is directionless in her personal life and is always looking for the next thing to fill her time and, more importantly, a lack of a personal feeling of accomplishment. Her escapades in trying to satisfy this need are as over the top as she is and gets her in a lot of trouble sometimes, but they don’t come off as TSTL, just misguided and a little desperate.

One of her escapades was trying to become a weathergirl for the local TV station, but, not having researched what it would take for her to become a weathergirl, thought it would be kosher to hang out there every day and beg for a job—until the station got a restraining order against her.

Her next idea is to become a bestselling romance author, again without having done the requisite research into how one becomes one of those, because how hard can it be to write a romance novel? So, with some preconceived notions, she crashes what is basically a critique group. It’s not quite what she expected.

“I’m sorry,” I interrupted. “I thought this was a romance writers’ meeting.” My insides clenched. This couldn’t be right. I must be in the wrong room, or hopefully the wrong building.

“It is,” Shoshanna LeHump said. “Nancy writes romantic cookbooks!”

“Oh, aren’t you a lovely thing.” Nancy smiled and squeezed my hands. “Are you a cover model?”

“Um, no. I’m actually a, um . . . writer,” I white-lied. I do write things. I’m a CPA, for God’s sake. I just happen to write numbers instead of words.

“Shoshanna,” Nancy called out to the handcuff-loving porno granny, “we have a new writer!”

“Fucking awesome,” the Shoshanna woman yelled back, giving me a big thumbs-up.

Shit, this was not turning out the way it was supposed to. These women were very sweet; they’d all hugged me when I arrived like I was a long-lost friend. Okay, that was a little unsettling, but as well meaning as they were, I didn’t want a Bunko group of grandmas who cussed like sailors . . . I wanted Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table, where we would drink wine and chuckle at our own witty brilliance. Speaking of witty brilliance, where in the hell was the Queen of Bodice Rippers? I wasn’t sure how much more information my brain could hold about bondage, whippings, and hot dishes before it would explode.

“Excuse me,” I said, interrupting Shoshanna LeHump’s in-depth explanation of the benefits and sanitation of butt plugs. “I thought Evangeline O’Hara was a member.”

The room went silent. Everyone stared at me like I’d grown three heads. All of the lumberjack-looking softball-playing grandmas narrowed their eyes at me.

“Are you friends with that viper bitch whore from hell?” Nancy, the storybook granny, inquired kindly. Her words and her tone did not match. Clearly I’d heard her wrong, but on the off chance I hadn’t, I refused to ask her to repeat herself.

“Um . . . no,” I whispered, a little bit scared. “I’ve never met her. I just thought she was a member.”

Everyone’s smiles returned when they realized I wasn’t best buds with the viper bitch whore from hell. These seniors had some amazing vocabularies. I made a mental note not to get on their bad side.

“Oh, thank God,” Shoshanna LeHump grumbled. “I was worried that stinky hooker sent a spy in to steal more of our ideas.”

In the meantime, a hot dude has moved into her apartment complex, whom she only sees from behind, and instantly falls in love with his ass. When Rena gets dragged into the villainess’s blackmail scheme, she has to violate the restraining order at the TV station to deliver a package, where she sees another hot dude. She debates whether to take a chance and approach him or to deliver the package. Even though she has already committed her heart to her new neighbor’s ass, she decides to approach the dude. And that’s where her escapade escalates.

Her violation of the restraining order gives the villainess a way to blackmail Rena into writing her next romance bestseller, which she is going to self-publish in three weeks. Since the villainess isn’t terribly bright (just mean enough to trap people into doing her will), she thinks the idea of a “time-traveling vampire warlock with erectile dysfunction and his conjoined lady loves, Laverne and Shirley” is wonderful and totally believable. So Rena, “an accountant with no discernible literary talent,” sets out to write this to end the villainess’s career.

Pirate Dave stared at the hat full of assholes[1] and wondered who had sent him such a lovely and unusual gift. He considered trying to fuck them, but since they weren’t attached to anything, he decided against it.

Apparently he had a secret admirer.

He’d received daily gifts for a week. Shirley was fit to be tied. She’d tried to tempt him away from thoughts of his admirer by swinging naked from the chandelier in the galley. Bad fucking move on Shirley’s part. During her buck-ass naked extravaganza, she’d accidentally blinded six crew members standing nearby when she gouged their eyes out with her toe.

Her lack of remorse was a huge turn-on for Pirate Dave, but she only had one vagina. Pirate Dave ripped open a box of Salty Skeeboodles and shoved them in his mouth. He left the crumbs from his snack embedded in his chest fur. Lice need to eat, too.

He looked down at his expanding stomach and realized he couldn’t see his peckers anymore. His inability to find a fuck buddy with two lady holes had led him to eat. A lot. He cared not that his once nicely indented ass had turned as flabby as Poseidon’s.

Feeling nauseous and horny, Pirate Dave formed a plan. He would stay awake until he caught his secret admirer. Anyone thoughtful enough to leave him a hat full of assholes deserved a garlic press.

As I said in the beginning, the hero is not deeply drawn, but then, he’s an uncomplicated sort who is attracted to Rena’s zaniness but little tolerance when it crosses the line of (for him) believability, which is where the angst comes in. There is very little zany or funny about the romance itself, which I appreciated because it balances out the crazy with its tender moments and (relative) ordinariness and demonstrates Rena isn’t that unreasonable.

The book is told in first person past tense and it is definitely a heroine-centric book. Rena is never actually TSTL. She analyzes the situation and constructs a smart scheme to extract her and her porno-writing grannies from their hellish situation. It is also an affectionate poke at romance. How many authors have been quoted as saying, “I put the book down and thought, ‘I can do better than that. How hard can it be?’”

B

July

[1] hat full of assholes