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A Sampling of What Dabney Read in October

October was, overall, a crappy reading month for me. The majority of the books I read ranged from mediocre to dreadful. Here’s a representative sampling.

The month wasn’t a total lost–I read several books that will be published over the next few months I thought were quite good. I also enjoyed several of the books reviewed positively here at Dear Author. But, in general, my October of romance reading left me wanting.

An Infamous Marriage by Suzanna FraserAn Infamous Marriage by Suzanna Fraser

This novel is a marriage of convenience story and it’s pretty good. I found it a little slow but, overall, the book was well-done.

Jack and Elizabeth married when Elizabeth’s husband of a week—and Jack’s best friend—begged them to on his death bed. (He died of chicken pox which he’d never had as a child.) Jack promptly abandoned Elizabeth and returned to his military life in Canada. Elizabeth moved to his home, took care of his senile mother and worked to keep his estate profitable. In the beginning of their marriage the two exchanged letters that grew in warmth. Then a bitchy busybody neighbor in the small English town Elizabeth lives in told her of Jack’s well-known infidelities. (The woman has a cousin in Canada who shared this gossip.) After hearing that, Elizabeth’s letters became cold and she and Jack became—via mail—distanced from one another by geography and by emotion.

Five years later, Jack is injured, Bonaparte is defeated, and Jack returns to his English estate to face a wife who wants nothing to do with him. He, however, is astonished at the woman his wife has become and sets about wooing her into his bed. Elizabeth, still hurt by Jack’s infidelities, resists him. Their courtship is slow and well-done—Jack realizes he has to convince Elizabeth he’s worthy of her body and, ultimately, her heart; Elizabeth knows she is his lawful wife and she works to move past her anger. The two have a realistic and interesting relationship.

My only issue with this book—both the history and the writing are quite good—is that it dragged in the middle. While Jack is at home, not much happens other than his pursuing his wife. The book picks up in the last quarter and ended well. I give it a B.

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An Heiress at Heart by Jennifer DelamereAn Heiress at Heart by Jennifer Delamere

This book was not for me. I found the plot to be a stretch and, had I realized it was an inspirational novel, I probably wouldn’t have begun it. (I’m an agnostic and faith based books are lost on me.)

In this Regency romance, a young woman pretends to be a dead friend of hers. Lizzie Poole left London in shame and moved to Australia. There she became friends with a woman named Ria who looks a lot like Lizzie. Ria also left London in a hurry—ten years ago she was engaged to one brother but eloped with another. Ria’s always felt guilty about breaking her engagement and so, on her deathbed, she begs Lizzie to go to London, pretend to be Ria, and make amends for her jilting her (also dead) husband’s brother.

The brother Ria jilted is also dead and the title of Lord Sommersville is now held by the youngest brother Geoffrey who, prior to his eldest brother’s death, was happily living as a small town reverend. He doesn’t really want to be Lord Sommersville, but he’s trying to adapt to his new role. When Lizzie as Ria shows up, Edward falls for her almost immediately. His feelings are not only problematic—there are parts of Lizzie’s story that don’t really add up—they’re a dead end. It’s illegal for him to marry his sister-in-law, widowed or not.

This is Ms. Delamere’s debut novel. She’s a good writer and she does a nice job of creating differentiated characters. I just couldn’t generate any interest in them or in their troubles. That said, readers who like sweet, slightly moralistic romances might like this book. For me it was a C read.

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Sleepwalker by Karen RobardsSleepwalker by Karen Robards

I am in a romance Bookclub and this book was our November pick. (Jayne reviews it for DA here.) I read it during a difficult week and it was just what I needed. It’s completely unbelievable, full of plot holes, and yet very entertaining.

The heroine, Micayla, is a Detroit cop who lives with her super wealthy uncle who she has NO IDEA is a mob kingpin. She’s in his mansion one night when Jason, a super hot thief of the Robin Hood school, breaks into the house to steal a couple of (dirty) millions. Mick busts in on him and, in the process, discovers pictures that indubitably prove her Uncle Nicco is a murderous fiend. All of this is being filmed by the house’s security cams and Mick realizes she’s moved to the top of Nicco’s hit list.

She, Jason, and two suitcases full of money hit the road (and the lake) and spend several days eluding Nicco’s goons as well as corrupt cops. While on the run, the two suffer from insta-lust which leads to insta-sex. Jason is a sexy guy–although a bit boob obsessed for my taste–and he and Mick have good chemistry. Plus the portrayal of Michigan in winter is dead-on; this book literally made me want to wear slippers just to get warm.

The plot is paper thin and the ending with its obligatory HEA requires a large suspension of disbelief. None the less, I had a good time reading it and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a mindless, fairly hot romantic suspense read. I give it a B.

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The Pleasures of Winter by Evie HunterThe Pleasures of Winter by Evie Hunter

This book is an Irish 50 Shades wanna-be. The heroine is a journalist who hooks up with a famous Irish actor with a penchant for spanking. They meet when Abbie Marshall catches a ride on Jack Winter’s private jet in order to escape from some Honduran bad guys. The plane crashes in the rain forest, they survive along with a couple of other guys, fool around, are rescued, and make their way back to civilization. Once there, Abbie, who really liked that one spanking Jack gave her in the jungle, begins an email relationship with him–except she doesn’t know it’s him–in which Abbie explores her submissive side.

I didn’t like Jack or Abbie and found their BDSM-lite relationship yawn inducing. I can only read about the same sort of spanking so many times per 50 Shades knock off. This came close to being a DNF for me, but, given that it was fairly short, I stuck with it all the way to the silly end. I give it a D.

P.S. After I wrote this, the New York Time’s Modern Love column had a piece by a woman obsessed with spanking. It made me rethink the spanking in this book. I don’t think the ideas in that article redeem this book but the piece did make me think I might have not quite gotten what made Abbie Marshall tick.

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How to Tame a Willful Wife by Christy EnglishHow to Tame a Willful Wife by Christy English

This book is the first in a series called Shakespeare in Love and is a retelling of The Taming of the Shrew. I’m not a big fan of that play and I didn’t like this book.

Anthony Carrington, Earl of Ravensbrook, marries headstrong Caroline Montague and expects to be able to rule his roost. Anthony is gorgeous, brilliant, fabulous in bed, and pretty much an ass. Many romance heroes are like that but they either have redeeming qualities or they evolve to become better men throughout the course of the book. Not Anthony. He’s overbearing and controlling at the beginning of the book and overbearing and jealous at the end. He’s the way he is for a reason–or so the reader is to believe–but I didn’t care. I didn’t like him.

Caroline isn’t really willful–she’s a super talented tomboy who isn’t very interested in being bossed around by some man she doesn’t know. I’d have bought her resistance if she didn’t cave every time Anthony worked his studly sex magic on her. Plus she does some really stupid things that border on TSTL and I hate TSTL heroines.

Ms. English writes well but her characters were so shallow and so unlikable I couldn’t appreciate her prose. I give this book a D.

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The Accidental Bride by Christina SkyeThe Accidental Bride by Christina Skye

This was yet another book I disliked. The heroine, Jilly, is a driven chef who has a heart attack and is told by her doctor to chill out for at least six months. Her friends trick her into going to a knitting retreat where she meets and begins to fall for the town hero, an strong but silent ex-military man named Walker. He has a really adorable dog. Their relationship is the stuff of a million mundane contemporaries until, two thirds of the way through the book, it tumbles into sheer unbelievable contrivance.

The spunky little old lady who owns the retreat is sick and it is decided the only thing that will cheer her up is if Jilly and Walker pretend to get married. It’s the wedding that matters here, not the marriage. This seemed outlandish and sappy to me.

Given that the first two thirds of the book were so-so and the last third annoying beyond belief, this was yet another D read for me.

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Captive in the Dark and Seduced in the Dark by C.J. RobertsCaptive in the Dark and Seduced in the Dark by C.J. Roberts

The worst book I read this month was The Dark Duet by self-published author C.J. Roberts. There are technically two books but it’s clear she wrote one and then split it into two. I had been warned these were awful, but I was curious why so many Amazon and Goodreads readers loved them.

They were a nightmare. I wish I’d never read them. I’d like to scrub some of the scenes from them from my memory.

The heroine, eighteen-year-old Olivia Ruiz, is kidnapped by the non-hero Caleb at the beginning of the book. She wakes up tied up and blindfolded in a strange room, totally at the mercy of the sadistic, brutal Caleb who plans to break her and the train her as a sex slave. He beats her, anally rapes her, starves her, screws with her head, and in almost every way possible, abuses her. He doesn’t actually rape her because he’s saving her virginity for the man he plans to sell her to, the arch-enemy of Caleb’s mentor, another sadist. Caleb and this guy plan to use Livie to get close to their arch enemy and then somehow kill him.

Caleb was, of course, terribly abused as a child and he can’t remember pieces of his past–although to the reader it’s totally clear his mentor is betraying Caleb as well as demanding the debasement of Livie. I guess the mentor is even more evil than Caleb and that, combined with Caleb’s tortured past, is supposed to make Caleb somehow sympathetic.

He’s not. He’s a monster.

Livie has a “dark” sensuality that responds to Caleb’s abuse. (He’s also the most gorgeous guy on the planet.) That, of course, is bullshit too. She doesn’t have a “dark” sensuality, she has severe Stockholm Syndrome. It’s stomach turning to read about Livie getting off as Caleb abuses her and horrifying to watch her fall in love with him.

The book has lots of scenes involving other sex slaves, sadists, murderers, and psychopaths. Several of the sex slaves equate their slavery with bliss, despite being forced to perform sexually in demeaning ways. I don’t read a lot of BDSM books, but those I have readhave consensuality as part of the relationship. This book just has desecration and violence.

The book is also poorly written, full of errors, and confusing sentences. It’s the opposite of sexy. The plot in the second half of the book (or second book) is muddled and barely makes sense. And the happy ending is downright creepy. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

The last time I checked, The Dark Duet has almost 7000 reads on Goodreads with an average rating of 4.19. I don’t get it. Maybe I’m too white-bread to appreciate this book. I am, however, possibly brave to trash it. The author, when describing herself, writes:

She also stalks her reviewers…What? Caleb had to come from somewhere!

At the risk of endangering myself, I’m giving the Dark Duet an F.

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I loved romances when, back in the mid 70's, in junior high, I read every Barbara Cartland novel I could check out from the library. Then, thanks to a savvy babysitter, I got my hands on the hot stuff. To this day I can remember how astonishingly steamy I found Rosemary Rogers' Sweet Savage Love. I abandoned romance when I went to college and didn't pick one up again until 2007 when I got my first Kindle. Since then, I’ve read countless romances; loved many, liked more, hated some. Most of what I read is historical and contemporary romance, but I’m open to almost any genre. I like my books to have sizzle, wit, and plots that make sense. I’d take sexy over sweet any day. I’m a sucker for smart heroes and smart-mouthed heroines. When not reading or writing about reading, or wishing I could rule the world, I'm meddling in the lives of my kids--I have four, ages 17 to 21--, managing my husband's practice, doing bossy volunteer work, and hanging out with Dr. Feelgood.

17 Comments

  1. Suleikha Snyder
    Nov 16, 2012 @ 12:15:47

    As a lifelong soap fan, I can’t help but wonder if The Dark Duet was fan fiction at some point. Caleb and Livvie are characters from the soap Port Charles — he a vampire, she a good girl who goes bad and gets turned as they fall in love — and CJ Roberts is the name of Cord and Tina’s son on One Life to Live. Really weird coincidence or what?

  2. Dabney
    Nov 16, 2012 @ 13:03:07

    The Dark Duet is a Goodreads choice for Romance of the year.

    http://www.goodreads.com/choiceawards/best-romance-books-2012#74611-Best-Romance

  3. Carolyne
    Nov 16, 2012 @ 13:44:58

    Folks need to use larger files when removing the serial numbers…

  4. MrsJoseph
    Nov 16, 2012 @ 14:24:04

    @Dabney:

    My GR friends that they are “judging” the people who made the books on the GR Choice awards popular, lol.

    I know that the friends of mine who have read it all love it but they caution that it is not a romance and that it falls squarely for those who have a fetish for non-con and captive situations.

  5. Dabney
    Nov 16, 2012 @ 15:25:25

    @MrsJoseph: This seemed so beyond non-con to me. That said, I have a teenage daughter and I couldn’t get past the idea of how young Livie is.

  6. LauraB
    Nov 16, 2012 @ 17:50:41

    Okay, maybe I’m just sensitive about this because of the whole “legitimate” rape fiasco of the summer, but I have to ask: how is raping her anal rape different from “actual” rape? Both are rape, yes? Is forced vaginal intercourse more rapetastic?

  7. Dabney
    Nov 16, 2012 @ 19:56:48

    @LauraB: It’s the holy grail hymen.

  8. Janine
    Nov 16, 2012 @ 21:42:00

    Wow, your October was worse than my September.

  9. Dabney
    Nov 16, 2012 @ 21:43:56

    @Janine: There were even MORE bad books in my October. This list comprised about half. November has been much better, however. Not perfect, but better.

  10. Susan
    Nov 16, 2012 @ 22:16:12

    I don’t know if it’s me or them, but there are so many former favorite authors that I have fallen out of love with in a pretty spectacular way. I’m thinking of Karen Robards on your list here. (She’s right up there with Linda Howard and a number of others.) I can’t even get through her books anymore so I don’t even bother trying.

  11. Anna Richland
    Nov 17, 2012 @ 00:33:08

    I liked Susanna Fraser’s Infamous Marriage – and really enjoyed her debut, A Sergeant’s Lady – I wonder if you’d had an overall better reading month, if it might have scored higher with you? Wondering about the psychology of being a reviewer, essentially. How do you prevent a bad streak from tainting everything else when you’re reading. Isn’t it wine tasting where they have you sniff coffee beans in between? What’s the literary equivalent? An issue of Real Simple between books? Or the New York Times Sunday magazine? Fifty Shades of Chicken? What book cleanses your mind so you can approach the next one fairly? I’m not saying the review is unfair – just wondering how a reviewer tries to ensure that one book isn’t part of a cycle that, in a different month, would have broken a different way, I guess. ‘Cause I really like Susanna Fraser’s books!

  12. Ellie
    Nov 17, 2012 @ 05:41:44

    Regarding Captive in the Dark: I would never buy this book. I don’t understand anyone who loves this book. The whole idea (and from what I’ve read, the execution) makes me sick. I am so grateful for honest reviews so I didn’t start reading this thing without knowing. Not enough brain bleach in the world.

  13. Sunita
    Nov 17, 2012 @ 07:24:03

    @Anna Richland: I can’t speak for Dabney but when I’m having a bad run of books a good one often looks even better by comparison. Good books are what keep me reading.

    I have a review of the Fraser in the works. I had a different take on it but my grade is probably the same or even slightly lower. I loved the first part but had problems with the middle and end, both in terms of characterization and pace. But the inclusion of the Canadian setting was terrific and I liked some of the plot and character risks Fraser took.

  14. Dabney
    Nov 17, 2012 @ 08:08:03

    @Anna Richland: I have liked other Fraser books more than this one.

    I’m sure on some level it’s impossible, but I do try and review each book on its own terms. I did read several other books in October I loved but several of them aren’t due to be published yet and I was sticking to ones that were available to all. Additionally, if I dislike a book, I rarely write the review right after reading it. I wait at least a week, go back, skim the book again, and make sure I’m on the mark. The more negative a review from me, the more time I’ve spent with the book.

    I just reviewed a book that, when I read it, I was stunned the author–who has written some really good novels–had written such a trite, heavy handed work. I made myself read the book again, two weeks later, just to make sure it was as awful as it seemed the first go-round. (It seemed worse.)

    A review is, even when backed up with text, still just an opinion. Mine are mine, all mine. I do try to be objective, but, ultimately, it’s just my response and my judgement.

  15. Dabney
    Nov 17, 2012 @ 08:08:34

    @Sunita: I thought those were strong points as well.

  16. Carrie G
    Nov 17, 2012 @ 14:34:00

    Oh Dabney! You said you’d had a string of bad books! No wonder Sleepwalker was a breath of fresh air! Not that I didn’t like it, I did, but it really WAS a stand-out in your month. ;-) I wish you were going to be there for Dec meeting. I’ve read and (surprising to me) enjoyed A Rose in Winter, but haven’t read the other yet. ;-)

    Cheers! and hoping your November and December fare better.

  17. Ridley
    Nov 18, 2012 @ 14:34:33

    I really enjoy non-con fantasies in erotica, but I won’t touch the Dark books. When I saw that he was supposed to be a sympathetic character and that they get an “HEA” together I couldn’t yell “OH HELL NO” fast enough. Kidnapping, rape and torture isn’t love, and if it isn’t love, it isn’t romance. I’m down with rape and abduction fantasy in erotica, but don’t try to sell me some disgusting line of bullshit about the guy just being misunderstood or misguided or use her enjoyment as evidence of consent. Rape is and should be taboo. Write the taboo without making excuses for his behavior, or GTFO.

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