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Tori Phillips

What Kelly’s Been Reading: The “I Survived the Polar Vortex” Edition

What Kelly’s Been Reading: The “I Survived the Polar Vortex” Edition

This was my one chance to use “Polar Vortex” in a headline, so of course I took advantage. Next month’s installment will be titled “Yes, I’m STILL Coughing Like An 80-Year-Old Smoker And Whining About It Like A Two-Year-Old.” I did manage to read a boatload of books, and a few even made me less of a cranky mess.

Love in a Pawn Shop by Bonnie Edwards

I went on a huge contemporary binge, kicked off by Tamara Morgan’s In the Clear, for which I thank Laura Florand for reviewing here, because holy crap, I love that book. So of course I had to read all of Morgan’s backlist, and most of Florand’s. I also holy-crap-adored Geek with the Cat Tattoo by Theresa Weir, which extended my Good Book Mood enough to dig into the TBR for some Nicole Helm (Flight Risk), Holley Trent (My Nora, Calculated Exposure, Saint and Scholar), and Edie Harris (Stripped, Sparked). I bought a fun one called Love in a Pawn Shop by Bonnie Edwards because kickass heroine + pit bull + sexy cop, and I read ARCs of Amber Lin’s Chance of Rain and Mary Ann Rivers’ upcoming Live. All were in the B/B+ range.

On the historical side, there was just one worth recommending, and a few disappointments….

To Tempt a Viking by Michelle Willingham

To Tempt a Viking by Michelle WillinghamI really liked the first book in this series (To Sin with a Viking), and on re-read I decided to bump the grade up to an A- because of the way Willingham handled the could-have-been-squicky plot device of a married hero. As a follow-up, Tempt just seemed kind of tepid – the heroine’s angst over her barrenness and failed marriage vs. the hero’s I’m-not-worthy-enough unrequited love was a great set-up, but I just didn’t get the same level of emotional intensity. Tempt also had more violence than I was expecting, and the sub-plot with a troubled plot moppet seemed like an add-on. Grade: B-

The Dancing Master by Julie Klassen

The Dancing Master by Julie KlassenI was hoping Klassen would be back up to my rather high expectations, but this one didn’t do it. It’s a Regency story of a young “caper merchant” from a disgraced family attempting to open a dancing academy in a town full of secrets ruled by the heroine’s stiff-necked widowed mother. I managed to avoid any and all Footloose mental imagery through sheer force of will; however, having read it over the holidays, I could NOT dispel the visions of the Mean Widow as the Burgermeister Meisterburger denying toys to all the kids of Sombertown. It’s a decent book, but as with Klassen’s other recent titles, it’s too bland and predictable to keep pace with my favorite inspie authors. Grade: C

Into the Whirlwind by Elizabeth Camden

Into the Whirlwind by Elizabeth CamdenSpeaking of my favorite inspie authors…. Whirlwind wasn’t quite as glorious as Camden’s RITA-winning Against the Tide, but it’s a great book that shows off the author’s immersive historical world-building. Set during and after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, it’s got a kickass Irish heroine who runs her family’s watch-making business with an iron fist, a Polish dockworker-turned-ruthless-attorney, and a diverse supporting cast that actually drives the story instead of dragging it down. A memorable one-sitting book trance. Grade: B+

Safe Passage by Carla Kelly

Safe Passage by Carla Kelly

I am…conflicted…about this book. I really liked what’s there, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. It’s a great historical adventure, highlighting a little-known setting (Mormon refugees during the 1912 Mexican Revolution), with shoot-outs and raids and starvation and rescues, presented by an author who’s one of the best story-tellers I’ve ever read. But my fangirl thing set me up to expect more of the relationship re-building that was promised in the blurb. I wanted Ammon and Addie’s second-chance romance to take center-stage because I believed whole-heartedly in their backstory and wanted to learn how their faith allowed them to forgive and reconnect. Worth reading, but be prepared for more action and less romance. Grade: B

Three Dog Knight by Tori Phillips

Three Dog Knight by Tori PhillipsYes, I paid money for this Harlequin Treasury re-release. Because dogs, duh. And it’s a good thing it had dogs, because I don’t really remember much else about this book. The hero was kind of a Kristoff-from-Frozen type of doofus, the cardboard-ingénue heroine was secretly a princess, the Slutty Evil Widow was a shrieking harpy, and I think the Hired Evil Villain may have actually twirled his moustache at one point. Dog-wise, there was a pregnant greyhound that gave birth on the Evil Widow’s bed, a slobbery mastiff who slobbered a lot, and a yippy terrier that rescued the ingénue from the Clutches of Evil. Too much melodrama, not enough dogs. Grade: D+

REVIEW: Fool’s Paradise by Tori Phillips

REVIEW: Fool’s Paradise by Tori Phillips

Dear Ms. Phillips,

I wanted to read this book because of the Tudor time period and the fact that the hero is not only a commoner but a bastard as well. Also, I had heard good things about your Harlequin Historicals of the 90s. It’s slightly bawdy for the time with Dicken doing his share of bodice diving amongst the wenches of the inns and manor houses of England and the heroine takes to public performances like a duck to water but methinks this is a book I would have enjoyed more “back in the day.”

Fool's Paradise Tory PhillipsIt starts off well enough with Lady Elizabeth fleeing from her piggy wanabe husband after her father dies in mysterious circumstances. She and Tarleton meet and greet and she tells him her tale after which he agrees, for a fee, to escort her to her godmother, the Queen. So far so good. He devises a “Chick in pants” disguise, treats her like an apprentice of the day would be (ie badly) but then clucks and hovers over her at all other times. Even after someone penetrates Elizabeth’s disguise and tells Tarleton it was his mooning over her that gave away the game.

And everyone loves Elizabeth. The fiendish lout who covets her lands, Tarleton – of course, the pot boys they meet along the way, the students at Oxford who save their lives – yes, everyone loves Elizabeth the sweet angelic soul. Just once I’d love to have heard a man look at her, shrug and say, “nope, does nothing for me.”

There are lots of details – the good, bad and ugly about life in Tudor England and life on the road for the po’ folks. Elizabeth gets an eye opening view of life among the rushes and ale houses and at the country fairs. This well done local color is what truly kept me going. That and the image of Elizabeth trying, and failing, to ride a goat.

But the story also circled endlessly while all these events were taking place. Tarleton is soon smitten with Elizabeth but knows that a titled lady with property is as high above his head as the moon. To keep his mind off her and her luscious body and how badly he wants to tumble her, he first jests with her then – when she in all innocence jests back and he gets hard enough to hammer nails – he treats her coolly. And she gets wounded and miffed until the next day when it all cycles. And/or something will happen to frighten Elizabeth and she’ll dissolve into tears and sobs and Tarleton will enfold her in his manly arms and rock her like a baby. Which is definitely not how a master and apprentice would behave. I got so damn tire of Elizabeth boo-hooing over and over I wanted to shake her and snap, “get over it.”

The way the villain is caught and Tarleton finally gets his dream girl is cool and apropos to the times. Points for working the Babbington Plot into the works and initially circumventing the vast difference in status between Elizabeth and Tarleton. But, alas, just when I thought I was home free with a commoner hero, the Queen comes along and changes all that. Sigh. Oh, well, that part was good while it lasted.

I enjoyed parts of this book, am glad I have now read one of your books, liked the detail and the way all was taken care of in the end but the endless loop of Elizabeth’s tears and Tarleton’s, “there, there now, chuck” wore me out. As I said, if I’d read this when it was first published back in the 90s, I’m sure it would have made a better impression on me. But now, it’s a C.


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