Friday, 30 July 2010

Secrets of a Scandalous Bride by Sophie Nash

I absolutely did not like this story. Of the heroine, Elizabeth, making preparations to marry a man she hated all the whilst doing the deed with 'her one true love.' It didn't help that the bad guy, Pymm, was a national hero second only to Wellington at Waterloo. And the lover, Rowland Manning, seemed to have been a baddie in a previous novel written by the author.

Elizabeth was being blackmailed by Pymm because she received letters from her uncle, Napoleon's commander at Waterloo. Are you telling me that no-one else knew she was related to this soldier? And you know what? I myself might feel suspicious of Elizabeth in such circumstances. Elizabeth also believed that Pymm had used the cover of battle to murder her father. But there was very little development of that plot throughout the book. I have no idea why Pymm was so obsessed with Elizabeth. Nor was it explained why Elizabeth believed it was her fault that her father and Pierce Winters had been killed. Nor could I understand what on earth Sarah was doing in the plot, apart from maybe being prepared to be the heroine of the next book by the author. Why would anyone be interested in the plodding romance between granny Ata and Brownie. None of these side plots were ever developed in any way. Mysteries were dangled in front of the reader...and just be continued elsewhere. Was I supposed to care?

Sarah was going to pimp herself out to Pymm so that Rowland would get the money owed to him by the Cavalry. Why would she do that? She's met him about a week ago. It's not as though he saved her life or anything like that. Basically she just felt sorry for him for various reasons. There were too many references to Rowland's previous nasty deeds to his brother and the brother's fiance for a reader to feel that he deserved such a sacrifice. And just a thought. Maybe Pymm himself had also had a difficult upbringing. The reader was given no choice to decide who was the better person between him and Rowland.

It was good that Elizabeth understood all Rowland's strange habits and that he fell in love with her. But what they should have done is just eloped and then sailed to the colonies in the New World to start a life away from from the stultifying expectations of titled friends and relatives.

In the end it became increasingly painful to read of Elizabeth's deceptions to both Pymm and Rowland. For the sake of a lot of money? And as I said before, the reader basically had to take Elizabeth's word about the murder of her father. What was the evidence for that belief?

The characters in the book kept each other in the dark about their various motivations, the reader was kept in the dark about the many on-going threads in the book and in the end I was just exasperated with the whole story.

The big mistake in the plot is to make the friend of a national hero into a baddie. While the main couple seemed to be of no better character than him...a novel with no cultural heart.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Masked by Moonlight by Nancy Gideon

I skim-read this story after about chapter 3. Which is why I almost missed the part where the heroine, Charlotte, pistol-whips her guy, the hero Max. Because she thought her good friend, the conniving nun, had died. The next day he forgives her.

Yes it is so much that type of relationship between Max and Charlotte. They hump and declare their love for each other. A few pages later they lie and hide the truth from one another. Max, in particular, seems to have emerged from an abusive relationship with Jimmy, his common-law adoptive father, only to start another with Charlotte, who is basically wacko. Mind you, Max's servility to Jimmy is also pretty cringeing to read. An image of Norman Bates and his mom kept creeping into my mind.

Oh, and Charlotte is also a serving police detective. Unable to solve any crime until someone anonymous hands her a brown envelope full of incriminating evidence against some poor schmuck. I struggled to get over the construct of an officer of the law sleeping with a major hoodlum, her colleagues know and she is not suspended from work and is even allowed to investigate alleged crimes committed by her lover, Max.

The novel is set in New Orleans. Which almost explains the totally bonkers plot. A mash-up of grand-guignol and southern gothic. Featuring off page grisly murders, gang-rape and arson. Plus a few ick factors. Fairly entertaining if you like that sort of thing. But for me...less is more.

What went wrong...

Charlotte is called different names by the different people in her life. The author calls her Charlotte or CeCe completely interchangeably. Like she couldn't make up her mind about her character. She also got called Lottie and Ceece.

For a moment. I actually thought tough brainy police detective Charlotte was going to allow herself to be raped despite the fact she had a weapon and her attackers did not. Thank goodness Max saved her. Like she was some kind of simpering miss.

For the first half of the novel the reader can get the impression that Charlotte became a cop to pay back Legere for her brutalisation. I thought psych tests prevented that sort of person from being a cop. (Thankfully.) Anyway that thread was dumped when Jimmy got shot by his relative. (A complete anti-climax.) And it made the heroine look demented.

Why would a working police detective even want to dress 'almost like a hooker.'

For most of the novel Max is a tearful weenie. He's a grown man who has chosen servility. Yuk. And that part about how Max's mom started hooking to buy him shoes is utter bilge.

I hate to defend slime but spousal abuse is not a capital offense. And could be said to be a whole lot less serious than racketeering. Which is what Jimmy and Max were involved in.

Some scenes were just ludicrous...Max introducing Charlotte to all the gangsters. Charlotte stopping a fellow detective from questioning Max, in the police station, when they all knew she was sleeping with him. The woman had no shame.

Towards the end of the novel, Charlotte suddenly had a realisation of the conflict of interest between her job and her relationship with Max. Lasted about a microsecond.

The love scenes weren't very hot...or descriptive. They were more about athleticism than emotion. And Max seems to have developed a pash for Charlotte when he rescued her from the gang-rape. Ick!

I absolutely didn't get who killed Ben Spratt or why. Or why Mary-Kate felt she should also die. I realise that that was all sequel bait. But that wasn't really made clear either. Just so annoying.

Why did so many characters have french names? Was some insult intended upon cajuns?

...but as a big positive. A whole lot happens in quite a short book. And for readers who like unlikeable (cod) serial victim heroes and heroines it was actually an interesting story. A variation on the theme of 'its so bad its probably a best-seller.'

Friday, 16 July 2010

Eye of the Beholder by Jackie Weger

I've been re-reading some of the older romances on my faves list.

Arctic Enemy by Linda Harell has lost its lustre. The journalist heroine now seems media-standard selfish and self-serving. Although the setting itself and the story is very exciting.

However Eye of the Beholder is still just absolutely wonderful. It's basically the story of how stick thin, itinerant Phoebe gets her man, Gage Morgan. This novel is just so much full of love and family. If only real-life were this happy and straightforward. Phoebe and her folks have absolutely nothing. They have all lost their jobs at the cotton mill. So what does Phoebe do. No, she does not let her mom pimp her into an arranged marriage. Phoebe packs her younger brother and sister into a pickup and goes to look for work. Bless her. And bumps into miserable Gage Morgan, the hero. Although basically, the story is 80% per cent about Phoebe.

Jackie Weger wrote an even better romance. On a Wing and a Prayer. Also on my list. The hero of that story actually lived in a trailer. And he was still wonderful. One of the few romances where both the hero and the heroine had minimal material possessions. But the characters in both stories were pretty similar. Crochety hero. Optimistic heroine with a heart full of love for children. And of course the sassy granny.

I don't know why the media prefers to portray the american under-class as being scarey (Hills Have Eyes, Texas Chainsaw, Deliverance) or immoral (Bens Wildflower).

Most of Jackie's other romances were bog-standard middle-class stuff. As was she herself. But those two mentioned above are a couple of 22-carat gems. And the best way to view both Eye and Wing is as sublime Works of Art. Cos there's no way they were an easy write.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

The Forbidden Rose by Joanna Bourne

An absolutely astoundingly well-written romance novel. With some quite emotional bits. Not much bump and grind though. But that didn't matter so much. What there is is a lot of stress and tension. Because the story is set in the times of the French Revolution. And the reader often feels like bad karma is on the verge of steam-rolling over all the protagonists. So much so that as always in such cases I needed some reasurance that there would be a HEA for the main couple. So I skipped to the final chapter, particularly once William was imprisoned. You know what. I couldn't make heads or tails of what was going on in the final chapter when I first read it out of sequence. It doesn't really help that the main couple modify their names. So William morphs to Guillaume and Marguerite becomes Maggie. But in the final chapter she assumes the name Martine, and Suzette.

Be aware that this is a resolutely (cod) literary novel. Complete with full descriptions of the characters of a couple of donkeys. And frequent views into the head of the female lead. Which often come across as inane witterings. And the love scenes feature corny purple prose. Sometimes the plot momentum just comes to a grinding halt whilst the heroine gives herself up to her imaginery world. The opening chapter where she has a conversation with a rabbit is completely characteristic of who she is. Actually I did buy into the characters and considered Marguerite as the person who moves the plot along.

The villain, Victor is totally horrible. Really. He should have had his head chopped off. Presumably he didn't because the main couple had to be so wonderfully wonderful.In fact. Absolutely no-one dies. Baddie or goodie. And sometimes a reader could feel the hard work that went into making it so. So why put in a thirteen year old former hooker?

A couple of things made me squee. Too many of the secondary characters are minors who have had difficult lives. In particular there seems to be a thirteen year old former hooker (probably coerced). Although she is portrayed as thoroughly heroic I just thought her back-story was just too much of an ick-factor for me to appreciate her presence in the story. And I didn't like that she gave up her four-year old sister into the hands of strangers, even though they were the completely decent main couple who swore to love the child as their own. Just all too sad.

I didn't really understand Madame who was supposed to be French secret police. And quite menacing toward Justine with her stupid gifts of food and clothes. Who did she report to? Why did her boss not get at all involved in the plot. I also had no idea why William's father had treated him so badly when he was a chid. Even at the end of the novel I had no idea why finding Marguerite's father (and his list) would stop the assassinations. But that part of the plot certainly seemed very clever.

So. What is so good about the novel. Because it is very very good. The sense of impending doom. The fact that the hero places himself in danger to safe-guard the heroine. Some scenes are totally derivative of the Scarlet Pimpernel. As is the writing style. But that is a positive comment. Both the main couple will always plot and plan to lead innocent civilians away from an unjust certain death ie the guillotine...even at risk to their own lives. Bless them both. And yes. I believed Marguerite was capable of setting up and maintaining an organisation called La Fleche (The arrow)...after all..she had lots of money. Just observe how loyal people were to her. Going back to the first chapter. The fact that Marguerite was very very hungry and still let the trapped rabbit go free told me everything I wanted to know about her character...and that I would love it. But that's just me.

And of course I absolutely loved the relationship between Marguerite and William. Which was never abusive or domineering or disrespectful. But always mutually supportive. I especially loved it when William told Marguerite that he owed her every breath he breathed. (After she saved him from the guillotine.) Although his own idea of a forger adding powerful names onto Robspierre's list was probably as instrumental in saving his life as Marguerite's efforts.

btw I have read the Spymasters Lady where William made his first appearance. And long since forgotten it.

Absolutely fantastic. But probably not suitable for those with a short attention span.