Thursday, June 27, 2013

How to Trap a Tycoon by Elizabeth Bevarly

Skeptic scale: 
I did NOT like this book. I get that this was supposed to be an ironic and tongue in cheek take on gender politics but it just felt like one long gasbag lecture about how "girls and boys are different but equal". C'mon now. Is equality even a question at this point!? 

The book is filled with long rambles about gender politics and sexual power dynamics that become frustrating and repetitive - perhaps a thorough edit could have solved that issue. But the truth is, NOTHING could have hidden the fact that the entire premise of the story was UNBEARABLE, flawed and offensively silly.

The protagonist is a woman holding down two jobs - she's a bartender at an exclusive club as well as a Sociology TA. In addition to her jobs, she has pseudonymously penned a bestseller called How to Trap a Tycoon where she talks about how women shouldn't feel bad about "getting theirs" and if money is their objective, they should follow her carefully laid out plan to trap a tycoon. 

Ok now I am going to go a bit nuts. I know it's "just" fiction yada yada, but it's DANGEROUS for anything to be this out of touch with reality. Let's begin the madness!

1) The premise of the book Totally Sucked. 
Here was the main point of the book (as well as the book within this book) summarized in a few lines spoken by the protagonist:

"How to Trap a Tycoon is a book that tells women how to go about getting ... nice things, things that they don't already have because they've been denied them by men."

Ummm...WHAT THE EFFING EFF??? How has this book not ended up on the banned list for this nonsensical premise!!?? Surely this is a more dangerous book than Lolita ever was? She's basically saying that because traditionally women have tended to be at an economic disadvantage, the way to even out that difference is to WHORE THEMSELVES TO A MAN WITH MONEY?? How does that not just EXACERBATE the bloody problem? Oh, so you don't have economic power so why don't you just make yourself so desirable a nice rich man will fall for you and then you can have everything you want, baby! Are you kidding me? 

Nothing about educating yourself so YOU can claim economic advantages for YOURSELF? How about arming yourself with the tools to acquire economic power (a fulfilling job, the capacity to provide for yourself, retaining control of your body etc)? You really think trapping a man is going to solve the whole gender power distribution thing?

2) Hugely irritating female characters
For all the big talk about women being up front and asserting themselves in male/female relationships, every single female character is extremely passive and panders to men. The main character, while educated and eventually financially independent, is entirely passive when it comes to her relationship with her love interest. He makes all the first moves, he is the sexual aggressor and he is the one who must "forgive" her for something he perceives as her betrayal. In fact, she never takes a single assertive step to help define their relationship. I mean, this could be a character from a Regency romance novel set in 1820 for all the pluck the woman shows.

Every single woman in the novel is portrayed as a passive player in their own lives and almost each needs to be saved by Mr. Alpha Dude Rich Guy. One of the main side characters was a woman who had been abused when she was younger and only comes to terms with her fears when a man takes it upon himself to "save" her. The main character's mother is not exactly passive, but she is a prostitute - oh, sorry courtesan, who has depended on the indulgence of men all her life. This character feels like she is truly "independent" because she doesn't need marriage. Um, I don't think being the sexual dependent of a rich benefactor counts as being independent, lady...

The one woman who is actively involved in shaping her own destiny - the owner of the bar where the main character works - is portrayed as a stone cold bi-atch. Because hey, you can't be an ambitious, money-minded, successful without being kind of a stinky shrew!

3) Equally annoying male counterparts
As annoying as I found all the female characters, the men were even more pathetic. Each man had exactly two attributes that define his entire personality  1) How wealthy he is, and 2) His willingness and ability to save the woman. 

For example, the main character's father was 1) Rich and 2) Unwilling to accept his bastard daughter. Ergo, he was a douche bag. By contrast one of the side characters who "saves" this girl who had been abused in her early years is 1) Rich and 2) A knight in shining armor. Ergo, he is a "hero". The main character's love interest is 1) Rich and 2) Willing to "forgive" his love interest for hiding her secret identity from him, so he too, is a hero. Douche bags and heroes. That's it. No further analysis of their characters. We know next to nothing about these men's motivations, their ambitions, their personal quirks, WHY they feel the need to save (or reject) these ladies. Nada.

Well at least we see some equality between men and women - as in there are equally dumb.

4) Wasted opportunities
There were so many other ways this book could have gone. I could CRY for all the wasted opportunities here...Maybe, in spite of writing about trapping a tycoon, the main character could have fallen for a poor man and then realized that true happiness has nothing to do with money and power when both are happy, well adjusted people. 

Maybe the secret author of How to Trap a Tycoon was the male character who was writing a tongue in cheek book to stir the pot, and then has to untangle the mess he makes when the female characters try to trap him, but he ends up falling for a women who doesn't try to trap him at all. 

I mean, ANYTHING other than the premise that girls should feel free to jiggle their boobs and learn how to give creme de menthe blow jobs would have been peachy. Oh sweet Aphrodite, I need to Listerine my mouth just thinking of how much garbage I ate reading this thing. Gack.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evie by Marianne Stillings

Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥

He: Detective investigating the murder of a wealthy, eccentric old novelist. The murdered guy was also the H's step-father.
Cover of: Midnight in the garden of good and Evie by Marianne Stillings

She: The ward of the murdered author who  loved her guardian, even though he had apparently been a difficult person.

Note: H - Hero, h - heroine

Conflict: H hated the old novelist because he had been the cause of some childhood trauma involving his mother. Turns out that the murdered guy "knew" he was going to get killed by someone so he sets up a "treasure hunt" for a few chosen guests to figure out who the murderer is. The H & h are on the same team as they try and figure out the mystery from the clues the old man leaves behind. Their divergent opinions of the dead old dude keep H&h on opposing sides.

The mystery is set up as a "whodunnit" treasure hunt where the winner who figures out who the murderer is gets all the dead man's money. H&h are on the same team and must work together to figure out who committed the murder. 

This is not a terribly mysterious mystery but it was generally funny, maybe a little hammy, sometimes even sitcom-y humor, but a decent read. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

It Happened One Midnight by Julie Anne Long

Skeptic Scale: ♥♥♥
Huh. What shall I say about this book that won't seem make me seem like a totally demanding d!ckhead. First of all, this was a good read. Julie Anne Long is obviously an amazing writer and the Pennyroyal Green series is a winner. But like the totally demanding d!ckhead that I am, I just wanted MORE. 

I mean, first of all, I was all disappointed by the fact that this wasn't the big Lyon/Olivia story that I have been waiting for for ages and ages (JAL and George R.R. Martin are KILLING me with all this SUSPENSE. I BEG you both to put me out of my misery already.) 

And second, I thought that maybe this particular story had a bit less uniqueness and knock-you-knickers-off-ness than the others did and that could be why I'm having such a hard time articulating why it missed slightly with me. 

He: Jonathan Redmond, the youngest son of the famed Redmond family of Pennyroyal Green. No one really expects much of him - not his father, the business-obsessed Isiah Redmond, not his siblings and not his friends in the ton. But Jonathan does have passion and interests outside wagering and gadding about Society. He has a knack for investing in good ideas - it's just that he doesn't always have the money to do it.

She: Thomasina, or Tommy, is the bastard daughter of a Duke, she had a tragic life but has scrapped and saved and has managed to build a place for herself in Society. It's a fragile foothold, to be sure, but she's determined to cling to it and to build the thing she wants most - a family.

Conflict: Tommy needs a wealthy, titled man to marry her and give her his name and to finally give her the respectability she's never really had. Jonathan doesn't have a title or wealth making him the exact opposite of what she wants. His father has also decreed that Jonathan must get married to a respectable lady of good breeding within 6 months or he loses what money he does receive in his allowance. Tommy is the exact opposite of respectable and not at all someone Jonathan can think of pursuing. Nothing seems to align for them and they know it.

My take:
1) I wish the hero was more "tortured" by his decision to follow his heart. 

I'm not a sadist or anything, but I like there to be some tension in the lead up to when H & h eventually get together. I want it to feel like the odds are so hugely against them, the risk of choosing each other is so fraught with peril that there is always the chance that they won't get to be together. Even though these are romance novels and I KNOW the ending, I want to feel like that ending is in mortal danger of never happening. I want to feel weak with relief when the HEA does happen for them. Dramatic much? Hells yeah...

Here, it just felt like both knew what they felt for each other early on. Jonathan's character was painted like this noble nice guy so that you already KNOW what his attitude to his father's ultimatum would be. I wasn't ever in doubt of his actions. Or hers.

2) I'm so over Good Guys - give me a leeeetle bad.

The hero is the classic Good Guy. He has a superhero complex and feels the need to save everyone, he's nice to children and ladies, he's an affable friend etc etc. I feel like I read this characterization a LOT. I would love to believe these Good Guy types actually exist but remain unconvinced. I wish there was a way to make a REGULAR person, one who doesn't naturally act like a saint and risk bodily harm to save others, be heroic. I wish he was even a little bad. Or regular even. At least that way I can pretend such a hero could actually exist somewhere in this big bad world. 

Speaking of Good Guys. I wouldn't have minded if this heroine was a little less tragically wonderful. I mean, she's like a lollipop. All unrelenting charm and sweetness. 

She got a superhero complex of her own and in spite of all the crappy things that happen to her growing up, she still has this fresh naivete and delightful innocence about her? C'mon. The last scene in the Epilogue made me roll my eyes even though it was supposed to show how she was such a dignified and magnanimous person in spite of being wronged by life. People don't work that way! Or maybe I'm just a huge jerk.

There were some other issues I had, but basically I thought the story was a bit blah and I kept feeling this deja vu, because honestly I feel like I have read the story of ruined-bastard-daughter-comes-up-in-the-world-relying-on-her-wits-and-incomparable-beauty-and-in-spite-of-the-tragedy-of-her-own-life-seeks-to-save-others-from-similar-fate-while-attaining-saintly-aura-of-untouchable-innocence. Nyeeeeh. 

I read somewhere that the next one in the Pennyroyal series is about Ian Eversea. Aaarrrgh. Shoot me nowwwwww. Give me Olivia and Lyon dammit. Although when I've calmed down I won't be that crushed about Ian's story - I like that guy in the other books so fine. I'll wait even LONGER for Olivia/Lyon. Waiting even longer for their story won't raise my expectations or anything...

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Falling Star by Diana Dempsey

Skeptic scale: 
The story about an aging news anchor is something you might see on tv - a romantic comedy starring Michelle Pfeiffer in the role of a woman's who Had It All but then swiftly Lost It All because of circumstances outside of her control - the media's obsession with youth, a dog of an ex-husband, a scheming upstart seeking to usurp her position as lead anchorwoman. 

The love interest, her agent, would be played by a younger man. I'm thinking Bradley Cooper because he needs to be able to be lawyer-ly and comforting but not take away the attention from our leading lady.

What say you? They look good together, right!? What am I even saying... Either Michelle or Bradley would look amazing cast beside a side of mutton. Anyway, I still think there's something nice going on here:

Once I had the visuals in my mind, I was more able to enjoy the story - because honestly, it was kind of sad reading about how this woman - capable, terrific at her job - just lost it all because she's not 25 and bang-able any more. I know, it's reality and I know it happens all the time, but it just reminded me that it TOTALLY SUCKS. So I made the whole thing into a romantic comedy in my head so I wouldn't feel so miserable.

Anyway, story was well written - it was not written as a comedy (that was a made-up defense mechanism thing, as I explained). The protagonist stayed in character the whole time - that is, she is described as a tough, focused career-woman and she stayed that way the whole time - she doesn't just turn into a leaky faucet who needs a dude to save her when everything unravels. She loses her mind a little, does a few crazy things, but they were all in the quest to rebuild her life.

The romantic angle in the book could have been beefed up a little - they didn't spend a lot of time together so I didn't feel the build-up. The guy has been her agent for years (it felt a little icky, he's been earning a bunch of money off her that whole time) and they are friends at first. Also, he's kind of dating someone else - almost married in fact (he's 37, it's time). So when they hook up - well, that's cheating, my friends! I definitely felt less sympathy for both characters at that point - he was kind of a jerk to carry on with his fiancee even after his stumble into bed with the h. Which makes him no better than the h's ex-husband - he was a cheating b@stard too! 

We'd re-write that whole part in the Michelle/Bradley movie, obviously.

Anyway, it all works out in the end. She manages to save her career with some audacious moves on her part and some luck. There was satisfying closure. The ex-husband was appropriately punished, the exec who was trying to push her out for a younger model was disgraced and the young, vampy upstart received her comeuppance. Boom. She wins and proves she can Have It All. Take that, world. 

A Gentleman Undone by Cecilia Grant

Skeptic Scale: ♥♥♥♥♥

I want to cry my eyes out. I swear I was breathless reading it. How have I never read anything by Cecilia Grant before? Did I even know what romance was before reading this? WHAT KIND OF MONSTER WAS I? I wish I never read this thing. My whole concept of what romance should be is ruined. Everything feels like sawdust now. Titanic feels like an episode of Seinfeld. The Notebook can eat my shorts.

He: Our hero is a younger son in a genteel but not aristocratic family. He had been a soldier in his prior life where he has seen some depressing stuff. He comes home to England scarred and not himself. One particular event - a man dying horribly in his arms - during the war has affected him so deeply that he feels like he needs to pay "penance" for what he sees as his role in that man's death. So to atone for his "sin", he begins raising funds to support the man's widow. He's not a rich man, but he's a gentleman, so he can't exactly "work" for the money as a regular person would. He decides he will gamble for it. He's a clever gambler, but even still, he can't afford the big bets for fear of ruining himself and his chances for helping the dead man's widow. Enter the heroine - she's a mathematical genius with a facility with cards, so clever he almost can't believe his eyes. With her help he will be able to win the fortune he needs and with his help she may finally be able to win the fortune she needs to earn her independence.

She: Here's where the writer just took my breath away. We've seen plenty of "fallen women" in Regency romances. They're the women who fall on hard times and have to do some "bad stuff" but they still retain a sense of goodness and light. It's like they're just hanging around waiting to get saved by the handsome hero who sees their innocent light beneath all the layers of smut and then kiss kiss bing bang, and everything is nice and happy again.

This heroine is NOTHING like that. She's fallen so far and so hard she can't really "come back". And she's not one of those stoical types who's just keeping her head down and bearing her burden. She's angry. Enraged. So fierce that her fury almost hisses at you through the pages.

Even under all the layers of that anger and ferocity - she's not innocent and sweet. She's a harlot. She loves sex. She's manipulative and clever and ambitious. And she most certainly has no use for men who want to "save" her.

What I loved most:
1) There was such an amazing build up between heroine and hero that you feel that tingly anticipation you did when you were a kid sitting ascending up that last, really fearsome arc of a roller coaster. 

H & h are attracted to be another, yes. They need each other to achieve their respective goals but they fight bitterly even as they work together like true partners. They learn from each other, and eventually they grow to respect and love one another for exactly the people the are. She doesn't become "good" and he doesn't even want her to. 

2) She's such a bad@ss heroine. She's smart and fast and cannot be kept down. Not by other men, not by her circumstances, not by anything. She behaves true to character in every single page and nothing, not even his wonderfulness diverts her from her purpose. 

3) She has a purpose. Too often we read a perfectly "nice" romance novel and when it's all over, you're still wondering what was so great about the heroine anyway? This one is single minded about earning her independence. She's focused and best of all, she doesn't really need anyone else to save her. She's so far beyond "saving" she just has to figure it out herself.

4) The passion that burns between H & h is beautiful. And it's also unholy, irreverent and profane. I don't think I need to mention this, but I will - the sex scenes were stupendous.

5) The hero is just what a fallen woman needs. A man who wants to jump down that glittering waterfall of sin and disgrace into an inky pool of lovely madness just to be with her.

Skeptic's last work: What a perfect, perfect, perfect book. I want to hate CG for ruining every other book for me forever. But I can't. 

It has been gently suggested to me by my long suffering husband that I just might have lost a little perspective here. Hmmm. So it's not normal for to be thinking about this story a week later and feeling heartsick and happy at the same time? Could it be that I might have to declare a moratorium on reading historical romances for a few days so I can GET A GRIP? 

Maybe. I'll think about it. In the meantime, I shall continue to skulk about the house with my wrist to my forehead, sighing gustily and staring broodily off into the distance. What do husbands know of romance anyway, right? ;)

Saturday, June 22, 2013

You Only Love Twice by Lori Wilde

Skeptic scale: 

He: NCIS investigator and former SEAL is running surveillance on his neighbor who is suspected of being mixed up in some sort of political intrigue involving terrorism and secret Navy conspiracies 

She: Illustrator of the comic series featuring Angelina Avenger, sassy crime-fighting superhero, and the h's alter ego

Conflict: Oh, the tangled web of deceit and subterfuge! I can't go through the exact conflict or I'll give away the whole plot but I will say that there are many twists and turns including the following:
a) An accusation of treason that involves state secrets about weapons and terrorists
b) A hit man who is looking to cap the h in her pretty little head
c) A high speed car chase where, despite getting shot at and almost killed, both H&h are overcome by the need for sexy-times. Um, duh!... wouldn't YOU?

The goods:
1) The character development of both H&h was pretty good. I liked how the h would have full conversations with her alter ego, and how Angelina, the super hero would goad the h into doing brave/reckless things.

2) The conversation was fun and flirty and the build up was nicely paced

The weirds:
1) There is a point where it seems as though the h's mom has been killed by the baddies. It was extremely weird to see how she manages to get turned on and wanting to jump the H's bones THAT SAME EVENING. Show some respect, woman! I mean, you can control yourselves for ONE evening, right? Not even to mourn the passing of the woman who gave birth to you?

2) There was a whole "Bourne Identity"-like set up with terrorists, corrupt government representatives, conspiracy theories that turn out to be real - but then the end is a neat little package where everyone is connected to everyone else and all the baddies were horrible and all the goodies, self-sacrificing saints. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Express Male by Elizabeth Bevarly

Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥

She: Marnie is a piano teacher with a nice, tidy life which gets turned upside down when she is mistaken for someone else. That someone else happens to be a legendary spy who is believed to have gone rogue and is now wanted by this top secret government agency for questioning. There are a bunch of bad guys out there who also mistake Marnie for being the secret agent lady and once they realize Marnie isn't their girl, the agency decides to use Marnie as bait to capture the baddies.

He: Noah is a senior agent with this top secret outfit who has the task of taking care of Marnie while she undertakes this dangerous mission of baiting the baddies out of hiding.

Conflict: Noah is attracted to Marnie, but he's not really sure if it's her he likes or the fact that he had had relations with the woman who looked like her. It's her. Obviously, it's her because she's sweet and nice and strong-minded and all that good stuff. Marnie is into it, but Noah blows hot and cold so she doesn't really know what to think. She's a little insecure because she gets the feeling that he might actually have feelings for that other girl who looks like her.

I wouldn't say this was a life-altering book or anything. But it was definitely a fun, quick read that had a bit of everything - interesting side characters, properly fleshed out personalities of both Noah and Marnie, a believable build-up of chemistry and sexual tension.  

These are the hardest reviews to write because there was nothing WRONG with the book. It amused, entertained and was pretty touching at times. It was just story I feel like I have read before. Big alpha boy secret agent taking care of a wittle lady who's being hounded by baddies...Not that she comes across as weak. No. It's just that after all the description about the spy everyone mistook Marnie for - I  kinda wanted to read about a love story about that woman! Now SHE sounded fun. Bad@ss girl secret agent who was the best of the best in her field. Everyone feared and admired her skills? She sounded awesome. Marnie was just a regular Jane compared to her so it was kind of a meh in comparison.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Sighs Matter by Marianne Stillings

Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥♥

Cover of: Sighs Matter by Marianne StillingsBefore I begin, would it be disloyal to a writer that I am really beginning to love to say that the cover* of this book is absurd? I like a slab of bronzed and rippling abdominals as much as the next girl, but this cover looked so cheesy, I almost decided not to buy the book. Also, I don't understand the title. I've been trying to figure it out for hours now and I still don't get it. 

*Yes, I do judge books by their covers - because that's what they're there for - to be judged and to sell you on picking them up. But I'm glad I overcame my reluctance because it turned out to be awesome! 

He: Detective who's investigating a suspect who is engaged to the h's aunt. He's into her (the h, not the aunt) and has been from the time they hooked up at his brother's wedding to h's best friend.

She: Small-town doctor who's into him. But...see Conflict.

Conflict: She has issues committing to him because she can never be with a cop. Her dad was a cop and was killed in the line of duty and her brother, also a cop, was permanently injured while doing his job. So she just can't take it anymore and wants to avoid getting involved with someone in law enforcement. 

They are thrown together because of the case he is investigating and when it looks like she might be in danger, he goes all alpha on her (hearts! likes!), does the Serve and Protect thing and just melts her little heart like a marshmallow on some heated loins. I don't mind telling you that while she tried to remain unaffected by him as long as she could, I was a swooning mass of undignified female by page 4. Dang! Maybe I was subliminally affected by the abs on the cover after all.