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About Rose

Rose is a graduate student and will some day find a way to work her romance reading into her research. Until then, she can often be found online discussing romance novels or sports –occasionally both at the same time. She has no TBR pile and is forever looking to change this unfortunate fact; recommendations for historicals, romantic suspense and contemporaries (preferably of the non-small town variety) are welcome.

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Reading List by Rose for July and August

Reading List by Rose for July and August

this wickedThis Wicked Gift by Courtney Milan

I read the enhanced version that Milan recently published, since that’s apparently the only way to get this story on its own. I usually find Milan’s novellas more enjoyable than her full-length novels – The Governess Affair is one of my favorite romances in recent years, and there are few authors as good as she is with this format. You can tell that This Wicked Gift is an earlier effort; her focus on social issues has become more marked, and I’m not sure a Milan hero circa 2014 would do some of the things that William Q. White does. But I enjoyed it very much, and that’s not something I can say about many Christmas romances. This one conveyed the spirit of the holiday without being obvious about it. B+.

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never beenNever Been Kissed by Molly O’Keefe

The title led me to expect something fluffy and sweet, but Never Been Kissed has more depth than that. I liked it, and appreciated what O’Keefe did with the heroine: Ashley has been traumatized but doesn’t give up, she discovers that she likes small towns but not because of any idealized perceptions, she learns how to stand up up for herself and she was a virgin, but not with the usual baggage that a virgin has in a contemporary romance (I don’t think that this is a spoiler). Brody had a more interesting background, but his role in the story was more conventional (I’m so damaged, I don’t deserve this amazing woman/anyone’s love etc.). Still, an enjoyable romance. B. I later read O’Keefe’s Between the Sheets, which was also good.

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suffragetteThe Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan

I generally agree with the points brought up by Willaful in her review, but liked it less than she did. Great dialogue, interesting characters, I enjoyed the publishing aspects, but it was occasionally too clever for its own good and there were quite a few characters so progressive that they would fit better in a more contemporary setting. I also felt cheated of a better epilogue: I think readers deserved to see Free vote, or even be elected for office. B-

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The Great Escape by Susan Elizabeth PhillipsThe Great Escape by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

I liked it in parts – mostly when Lucy was figuring out who she was rather than acting like a bratty teen. Awful ending, though, because of Lucy acting like an idiotic brat and then an overly sweet epilogue. It would have probably worked better as women’s fiction, as the friendships were often more interesting than the romances. B-

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blood-of-tyrantsBlood of Tyrants by Naomi Novik

When I last put together a reading list, I’d just gotten started with Novik’s Temeraire series, which I’ve enjoyed pretty much throughout (well, maybe not the Bunyips). The most recently published entry manages to put an amnesia plot to good use (!), as it shows how far William Laurence has come from his navy days and how his perception and moral views have changed through his experiences as an aviator. One thing Novik does that I find interesting is the different treatment of dragons in different societies – from honored nobility down to servants and even slaves – and the way this affects relations within these societies as well as the course of her alternative history. I didn’t find the Russian section of the book as engaging, and I didn’t expect what was essentially a cliffhanger ending (although we know what happened to Napoleon’s army in reality, this isn’t actual history…) but I’ll still read the final book once it’s published, of course. B.

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Red Dirt Duchess cover - CalbreRed Dirt Duchess by Louise Reynolds

I read this one for review, and felt it had more potential than Reynolds was able to realize.

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The Hidden Blade by Sherry ThomasThe Hidden Blade by Sherry Thomas

I read this and My Beautiful Enemy back to back, so I’m going to treat them as a single entry. On their own, both books are very good – I could have done with less confusing action at the ending of The Hidden Blade and tighter flashback sections in My Beautiful Enemy, but these are minor issues. Looking at both parts together, this is my favorite romance so far this year. It’s original, beautifully written, features interesting characters and is very emotional. I strongly recommend that anyone thinking of skipping straight to My Beautiful Enemy reconsider, and read the prequel first; it’s a richer (and less confusing) experience that way. A-.

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HAMW - Goodreads imageHeroes Are My Weakness by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

I picked this one up for review because I thought it might be fun. It was not fun.

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harderHarder by Robin York

Harder is more West-centric, and given that I found West less interesting than Caroline in Deeper, I guess it was to be expected that I’d like it less. His relationship with his sister was well-written and the book became much better once he started trying to figure out his life and his goals, rather than falling back on self-pity (justified as it may have been). Caroline wasn’t given that much to do here, and her POV was often unnecessary – I love West, I need West, I miss West, West was mean to me, I wish I could have sex with West, etc. I could have done with less of that and more action and interaction. B-

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The Year We Fell Down (The Ivy Years #1) by Sarina Bowen The Year We Fell Down by Sarina Bowen

Jane’s review convinced me to give this one a shot, and I’m glad I did. The characters come across as realistic and their issues were not the usual NA thing. Well, at least Corey’s weren’t, and it was good that she was neither overly angsty nor miraculously healed; she works hard for the progress she makes and to get what she wants. I also liked the way the relationship developed, though maybe less bitchy girlfriend in the background would have been better. The ending was a bit too neatly wrapped up for my liking. B+

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REVIEW:  Heroes Are My Weakness by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

REVIEW: Heroes Are My Weakness by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

HAMW - Goodreads image

Dear Ms. Phillips,

I tried, I really did, but I just couldn’t get into this book at all. It seems to have been meant as a modern take on Gothic romances, but for me it didn’t work as either a Gothic or a romance.

Annie Hewitt once dreamed of becoming an actress, but ended up becoming a ventriloquist and specializing in educational puppet shows. As the book opens, she is travelling with the puppets in tow to her late mother’s cottage on sparsely populated Peregrine Island, off the coast of Maine. Annie’s mother Mariah recently passed away and left Annie an unspecified legacy at the cottage. Mariah had been heavily involved in the New York art scene during her life and would often host artists at the cottage, so Annie suspects that there could be something very valuable involved, but she’s not sure what. By the terms of Mariah’s divorce settlement, she or her heirs must spend sixty consecutive days at the cottage each year or it will revert back to her ex-husband and his family. Annie is broke and has few job prospects, so she decides to spend a couple of months at the cottage and sort things out.

While travelling by night to the remote location, Annie runs her car off the road while trying to avoid a rider on a black horse. She hikes out to the cottage in the bitter cold only to find it dark and unheated, and collapses there for the night. The next morning, she heads up to Harp House to track down the caretaker who should have had the cottage ready for her, but instead runs into Theo Harp, her former step-brother with whom she had a brief relationship when they were young. Annie is convinced that Theo is a psychopath who tried to kill her when they were both teenagers by drawing her to a cave that gets flooded during high tide. The way his behavior as an adolescent is described suggests that she may very well be correct in her diagnosis. Theo, now a bestselling author of horror novels, has issues and wants Annie to go away. That’s the extent of his characterization for quite some time.

So we have a heroine looking for a mysterious artistic legacy, a widowed novelist hero with a difficult past, and some bad history between the two of them. If this sounds familiar, that’s probably because you used a very similar setup in Ain’t She Sweet, only this time the hero gets both the villainous teenager role and the brooding author one. Annie is no Sugar Beth Carey, though, and while it’s not badly written, the story is far less engaging.

Rather than coming across as quirky and irreverent, which was probably your intention, Annie was simply annoying. She regularly imagines conversations between her puppets (each of whom has its own personality and plenty to say) as an ongoing commentary about her life and behavior. For example:

-You mustn’t keep complaining, Crumpet, Dilly admonished her peevish counterpart. Peregrine Island is a popular summer resort.
-It’s not summer! Crumpet countered. It’s the first week of February, we just drove off a car ferry that made me seasick, and there can’t be more than fifty people left here. Fifty stupid people!
-You know Annie had no choice but to come here, Dilly said.
-Because she’s a big failure, an unpleasant male voice sneered.
-Leo had a bad habit of uttering Annie’s deepest fears, and it was inevitable that he’d intrude into her thoughts. He was her least favorite puppet, but every story needed a villain.
-Very unkind, Leo, Dilly said. Even if it is true.

The puppets are right; Annie’s decision-making really isn’t the best. She decides to come to Peregrine Island in the winter, practically unannounced, having only communicated with the caretaker by email and without waiting for his confirmation that the cottage is ready for her. She believes that Theo is dangerous, but spends her time snapping at him and occasionally trying to persuade him that his house is being haunted. That’s not cute, it’s stupid and childish.

It doesn’t help that the entire beginning, and a large part of the story afterward, is told from Annie’s point of view. As a result, there’s little insight into Theo, his thoughts and his motives, and while “dark, dangerous and brooding” may be classic Gothic material, it wasn’t enough here. There’s more from his perspective later on, but it was too late. It’s not that I can’t enjoy heroine-centric romances – Call Me Irresistible, for instance - but I need to like the heroine better, and for the hero not to be portrayed in such a disturbing way for so long.

As for the plot: someone is clearly trying to drive Annie out of the cottage for unknown reasons – island residents keep telling her that it’s not safe for her to be alone, the cottage is broken into, her grocery order is cancelled (a real problem, since deliveries are made from the mainland only once a week), someone shoots at her, and one of her puppets is left hanging from a noose. That’s actually pretty creepy. Annie first suspects Theo, but the two grow closer as it becomes clear that he wants to help rather than hurt her.

There’s a subplot involving Theo’s housekeeper Jaycie, who saved Annie from the drowning attempt, and her young daughter Livia, who won’t speak. Annie tries to draw Livia out, which involves engaging her with the puppets. I could have dealt with the puppets occasionally, but there were too many of them and their ongoing commentary was a distraction. I guess puppets aren’t my thing unless they’re vampire puppets.

Annie and Theo end up having sex, which seemed kind of out of the blue. I’ll give credit for not making it particularly good for either of them, and for having Annie understandably freak out afterward because they forgot to use protection. I managed to get through a few more chapters after that, then mostly skimmed the rest of the book to get to the ending.

The mystery of who’s tormenting Annie is ultimately resolved; not surprisingly, it also turns out that Theo is true hero material. I found some of the disclosures relating to his past disturbing:

Spoiler: Show

First, Theo tells Annie that his wife had mental health issues, became obsessed that he was cheating, and eventually committed suicide. Later, it also turns out that Theo’s twin sister Regan suffered from an undiagnosed mental illness and couldn’t bear for her brother to become involved with anyone. She would make life miserable for anyone she suspected as being a potential romantic interest of Theo’s and sometimes physically harm them. Theo covered for her because he didn’t want her institutionalized and tried to stay away from anyone he was interested in. Regan was the one who tried to kill Annie, while Theo had only been trying to protect her and to keep Regan under control. Regan ended up committing suicide in her early twenties by going out to sea during a squall, soon after finding Theo with his college girlfriend. Theo believes that Regan was trying to set him free rather than to punish him.
I’ll grant that I may have missed some of the subtleties, but I was uncomfortable with the characterization of both women.

I know from past experience that your books can be very hit or miss for me, but I keep reading because the good ones are wonderful. Unfortunately, Heroes Are My Weakness joins the list of misses. D.

Best regards,
Rose

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