Category: May's Reviews
Steampunk Romance Courtesy of Gail Carriger
Soulless by Gail Carriger
Changeless by Gail Carriger
Blameless by Gail Carriger
May's Review: Aristocrat Alexia Tarabotti is an oddity in 19th-century London where werewolves and vampires walk side-by-side ordinary humans. Simply put, she has no soul and her ability to negate supernatural powers makes her both highly desirable and dangerous. Furthermore, her beauty is somewhat conventional, she tends to be "mouthy" and she prefers the company of werewolves over vampires (flamboyand Lord Akeldama is the exception).
Soulless, which is the first book in the Parasol Protectorate series, introduces Alexia as she is about to kill a vampire with her parasol at a party. From then on, the story features almost non-stop action as Alexia teams up with Scottish werewolf packmaster Lord Conall Maccon, to solve a mystery. To be honest, the mystery was unmemorable compared to the all-too sizzling chemistry and highly satisfying romance that develops between Alexia and Conall. The witty dialogue between the two characters was simply entertaining and just made me fall in love with this steampunk romance.
In Changeless, Alexia's and Conall's romance has lead inevitably to marriage. Luckily for the readers, married life has not dampened Alexia's or Conall's tendency to attract unwanted attention and danger as they travel to Scotland to unravel the mystery of why supernaturals are losing their supernatural power. Interesting family dynamics are on display while Conall is forced to deal with his old Scottish pack that he abandoned years earlier. Like the previous book, this book also features a plethora of secondary characters who constantly threaten to steal the limelight away from the leads. Still, there is huge twist at the end that throws a huge obstacle in Conall's and Alexia's path that reminds us that romance is at the heart of the story.
However, while Soulless and Changeless were wholly satisfying, I did find Blameless a little lackluster. Part of the problem is that there is very little interaction between Conall and Alexia. Another problem is that the secondary characters were too many and too uninteresting at times that they were more of distraction rather than an aid. Whereas the first two books worked as a terrific steampunk romance, I considered the third book the throwaway to help set up the next books in the series. However, I would still recommend the book only if you loved the first two books in the series and want to see where Carriger is going with Conall's and Alexia's romance.
For those wanting read alikes, here is a brief list of some steampunk romances:
* Crimson & Steam by Liz Maverick
* Iron Duke by Meljean Brook (Click here to read my earlier review of this book)
* Steamed by Katie Macalister
The Forbidden Rose by Joanna Bourne
May's Review: Picked by Publishers' Weekly and Library Journal as one of the best romance books of 2010, I thought I would give this book a try even though I generally find spy stories set in the past to be somewhat of a miss for me. Story starts out simple enough. British spy William Doyle meets French aristocrat Marguerite de Fleurignac in a burned out chateau and escorts her back to Paris with the hopes of finding her father, whom he suspects of selling out British agents. Marguerite or Maggie has her own secrets as she has been secretly saving and planning the escape of aristocratic families fated for the guillotine.
Like many books in this genre, this story contained plenty of action with good pacing. The main leads are amply supported by an intriguing cast of secondary characters. Yet somehow, I still felt underwhelmed by this book. Perhaps as some book reviewers have suggested, it may have something to do with some of the secondary characters upstaging Doyle and Maggie so they could be set up as main characters for the next book in Bourne's spy series. Hmm, it's a possibility but I think the problem may lie in the fact that I didn't particularly find the main characters all that engaging. I understand their immense physical attraction to one another but not their love, which just seems forced. Still the book was interesting enough for me to finish although I am not really sure I would give it the "Best of 2010" honours.
Review: The Confidential Life of Eugenia Cooper
The Confidential Life of Eugenia Cooper by Kathleen Y'Barbo
May's Review: One of the great things about romance novels is how simple the premise is. In this case, Eugenia is a beautiful, highly-educated, upper-class woman from New York who is yearning for a Wild West adventure. Seeking to spread her wings, she "borrows" an identity and heads out to Colorado where she poses as a governess to a young girl who continually acts out in order to get her father's attention because he is too busy running his silver mines. Somehow, the pseudo-governess and the silver baron are forced to marry one another to avoid a public scandal but before they can reconcile their feelings for one another, Eugenia's wayward fiance from New York has tracked her down and coerces her to go home.
For me, this book falls into the "Meh" category. One on the one hand, I found the main characters to be entertaining, especially Eugenia whose enthusiasm for adventure is contagious. What I found annoying about the book, however, is how contrived some of the scenes were. For example, I literally cringed during the whole "we have to get married because the town passed a "good morality" clause" bit. The citizens came off as being purely tyrannical and very un-Christian, which I don't think that was the author's intent.
Another annoying aspect of the book was its pacing. Somehow I have trouble believing that Daniel traveled from Colorado to England and then to New York in less than a week. Hey, that type of travel itinerary maybe more common today but not in the 1880s! Not to mention, the author brings up the meeting with Daniel's estranged father and how Daniel dreads presenting his daughter to him. Yet, the meeting is barely acknowledged and mentioned only in passing towards the end as if the author ran out of steam and wanted to tie up all of the loose ends.
I know plenty of people would probably enjoy this book due in large part because of its spunky heroine and the fast-paced romance with no explicit sex scenes. Personally, I would recommend Deanne Gist's Bride in the Bargain as the better of the Inspirational-Historical books (click here to read my earlier book) for someone to read. But then again, don't just take my word for it. Let me know what you think.
The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook
May's Review: I have this book down on my to-read list for quite sometime now but as soon as I read that Publishers Weekly named it one of the best romance books of 2010, I knew I wanted to read it now.
The story is somewhat simple. With the help of the "Iron Duke", England has finally beaten back its Mongol overlords who have ruled the island for the past 200 years. However, England is still not safe from its many enemies including those who resent Rhys Trahaearn, the iron-boned pirate-turned-military-hero-turned-aristocrat. A body is dumped onto the duke's estate from an aircraft and the officials send in Detective Mina Wentworth to investigate the murder. But Mina has her own set of problems. Because she is half-Mongol, she does not have an easy time being accepted by the English populace and often has to walk around with her own personal bodyguard. Racing across zombie-infested lands and kraken-filled oceans, both RHY and Mina will have to learn how to put aside their differences to solve the case.
This book does work as a really intriguing steampunk tale combining science fiction elements with an alternative universe. I found mystery of the tale to be so-so mainly because it was overshadowed by the many explicit sex scenes. When I say explicit, I do mean explicit. In fact, I had to re-read certain passages because I think the hero's actions in a few of the sex scenes could be somewhat misconstrued as non-consensual. Anyway, the action sequences move fairly quickly with enough suspense to keep the reader riveted to the mystery at hand. This is a dark political tale with tons of grit. A good read for those liking their heroes extremely macho and their heroines to be the self-sufficient and resourceful type.
Review: Seducing the Duchess
Seducing the Duchess by Ashley March
May's Review: Here is the storyline: Charlotte, Duchess of Rutherford, has spent the past three years causing all kinds of scandals to force her husband, Philip, the Duke of Rutherford, to divorce her. At long last, Philip will grant the divorce but only if Charlotte agrees to help him to become a better husband to win back the woman he was suppose to marry before Charlotte. Will love strike twice for this couple?
If you want a story packed with emotional angst just oozing from the pages, then this is the book for you. Unlike in Dreyer's Barely a Lady (note: link takes you to my previous review) where the couple had this grand love affair before their estrangement, the relationship between Charlotte and Philip was already destined to failed. Within the first couple of pages, the author reveals that Philip married Charlotte to get back at her brother who ran off with Philip's fiancee--a fact that Philip cruelly reveals to Charlotte on their wedding night. Needless to say the relationship is severely strained between the two but it gets more complicated when Philip realizes he is actually in love with Charlotte and hatches a plan to win her back. Despite the folly of Philip's plan, you can't help but sympathize with him as he works to regain Charlotte's love as well as her trust. What I like best about this book is that even when the full truth is finally revealed, there is still a lingering doubt whether these two will get together.
A really good read for those seeking a new Regency/Historical Romance writer.
The Dark Queen by Susan Carroll
May's Review: On the one side is our beautiful heroine, Ariane, one of the famous Cheney sisters who are renowned for their mystical skills. On the other side, there is our hero, Comte de Renard, a passionate but mysterious nobleman who has fallen madly in love with Ariane and demands that she marries him. Will Ariane continue to resist Renard's overtures or will she finally call upon his assistance when she is in the gravest of dangers from the treacherous Catherine de Medici, the dark queen of France?
Contrary to some readers' opinion, I consider this book to be more of a romance instead of a work of historical fiction or fantasy. Too many of the basic romantic elements are here: a strong and fair maiden with a compassionate heart; a dashing and incredibly strong "knight in shining armour"; both an evil and menacing villain and villainess who will stop at nothing to get what they want; magical ability to transport you to a different time and place; and of course, some pretty "steamy" romantic scenes.
For me, this was an enjoyable and riveted read from start to finish. Obviously I enjoyed the romance but I have to applaud the author for setting up many of the future romances which are covered in the rest of her Dark Queen's Saga series. While some readers maybe upset that Catherine de Medici is so maligned in this book, I have no issue with it. In fact, I don't think Caroll had much of a choice as I don't think there is a more controversial queen in all of France's history than Catherine except for perhaps Marie Antoinette. I also appreciate the fact that the magical elements are kept to a minimum so that they don't overwhelm the story and veer this romance into all-consuming fantasy. Hence, I wholly recommend this book to those who love historical romance and need a change of pace from the usual Regency, time-traveling Viking or all-too masculine Scottish laird books.
For those wishing to check out the the other books in the Dark Queen's Saga series, here are the remaining titles:
* The Courtesan
* The Silver Rose
* The Huntress
* Twilight of a Queen
Review: The Exile: An Outlander Graphic Novel
Blog post courtesy of the Graphic Novels blog...
The Exile: An Outlander Graphic Novel by Diana Gabaldon
May's Review: So the growing trend these days is to take a highly popular work of literature and adapt to the graphic novel/manga format. We have already seen a number of this year with Sherrilyn Kenyon's urban fantasy/romance novels, Patterson's Maximum Ride books, and Meyer's Twilight series. I suppose these graphic novels/manga are done to appeal mainly to the author's fans because in some cases, I don't necessarily find the new adaptions to be as interesting as the original.
Mind you, I have to have read the original which brings up the whole Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. Romance blog readers will know that I am largely a historical romance reader while some of my close friends, like JC, also know that I also happen to like my romances set in Scotland. But for some unexplainable reason, I have never managed to read Outlander, the first book in Gabaldon's hugely popular romance series. The book which won the 1991 RITA award for Best Romance novel, centers on a nurse, Claire Randall, who is vacationing with her husband in Scotland sometime in 1940s. While exploring, Claire inadvertently is transported back in time to 18th century Scotland where she meets our red-headed hero, Jamie Fraser, a fugitive with a complicated past. The rest of the story basically involves Claire trying to get back to her own time while trying to fight her immense physical attraction to Jamie.
The graphic novel picks up this complicated storyline by telling it from Jamie's prospective. I suppose that this was a new way to retell the familiar story but I admit that I wished it had told it from Claire's point of view instead. I felt Jamie's characterization wasn't quite as well developed and had difficulty following the rather convoluted plot at times. I assume that Claire develops very strong feelings for Jamie prior to being forced to marry him in the book because in the graphic novel, she just grudgingly seems to "go along" with everything and as a result, I don't find her all that compelling at times. It probably doesn't help that the illustrator likes to focus on Claire's buxom figure especially in the later half the of the novel making Claire more of a 1950s pin-up model rather than the intelligent and highly-compassionate heroine she is suppose to be portraying.
Fans of the series will likely flock to this graphic novel and fall in love with the series again. As for me, I just thought this novelization ranked a "Meh". Kinda mediocre as far as I'm concerned.
Recommended Reading List for "C"
"C", a good friend of mine, recently asked me for a list of suggested book titles. Now normally one conducts a more formal interview to find out what she has read before, what she liked or disliked about the books, etc. However, I know "C"'s taste tends to run more towards the historical side since she did once remark that she has read and re-read a number of Georgette Heyer's books.
Hence, here are a couple of historical romance authors & titles that I think "C" might enjoy:
A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh
May's Review: Since "C" is quickly working her way through Balogh's Huxtable series, I definitely want her to check out this title. This book starts off as a typical Regency with the hero forced by his father to find himself a wife while the heroine is similarly forced by her parents to marry because she has socially disgraced herself. Needless to say, the couple has known each other for years and appear to dislike each other. Yet appearances are deceiving and Balogh throws in a twist that just proves how intelligent her heroines typically are and how noble our heroes can be.
Bride in the Bargain by Deanne Gist
May's Review: Although this book could be classified as Historical-Inspirational, I found myself drawn into the story of a lumberjack living in 1860s Washington State who desperately needs to find himself a wife so he can retain his land. However, nobody told his intended bride-to-be who thinks she is coming to be his cook and housekeeper! Based on an actual historical event, this book was simply delightful with wonderful written characters and a setting that just seems to jump off the pages.
It Happened One Autumn and Devil In Winter by Lisa Kleypas
May's Review: Although Kleypas just recently finished her Hathaway series, my all-time favorite is still the Wallflower series and while I wasn't a huge fan of the first & fourth books, I simply adore books two (It Happened One Autumn) and three (Devil in Winter). Both books follow a similar formula: take a very handsome but extremely arrogant man and have him cross paths with a uncommonly beautiful, intelligent and highly stubborn female. Throw in societal pressures, less than desirable in-laws and/or relatives and mad-cap adventures that include kidnapping & an assassination attempt, you got a terrific pair of books that are simply two of my all-time favorite romance books.
Barely a Bride and Merely the Groom by Rebecca Hagan Lee
May's Review: I am currently reading this series which centers around a Free Fellows League--a band of rich and highly educated lords who decide to risk everything for king and country but not their hearts. One by one, the men realize their folly and succumbs to cupid's arrow. Book one (Barely a Bride) deals with war and marriage while book two (Merely the Groom) deals with a forced marriage thanks to an impostor.
Ten Things I Love About You by Julia Quinn
May's Review: Julia Quinn is another must read Regency author and while there any number of books I can recommend, the main reason I'm recommending this book to "C" has a lot to do with the fact that we both watched the movie Red this past weekend. Remembered how we were secretly thrilled that Bruce Willis was reading romance novels? Well what do you think would happen if the hero wrote them? Throw in witty dialogue, a disdardly uncle, and a spunky heroine, you end up with yet another terrific Quinn novel.
Tempting Fate by Alissa Johnson
May's Review: A RITA nominee for best Regency romance, Tempting Fate tells the story of childhood rivals, Whittaker Cole (Earl of Thurston) and Mirabelle Browning, who fall in love as adults. From the very start, all of the females in Whittaker's household have taken a likening to Mirabelle and already regard her as a "daughter" and "sister". Unfortunately, the head of the household, Whittaker, still sees her as a "annoyance" but his opinion of her gradually changes when he realizes how important she has become in his life, especially after she tumbles down a hill and is somehow implicated in a somewhat ridiculous sub-plot involving counterfeit bills and a brutish uncle.
Personally, I think Johnson could have skipped the subplot involving spies and an assassin which I found to be the weakest element, and solely focused on Whittaker's and Mirabelle's romance instead. Still this was a good story with strong romantic elements with totally likable characters. A good choice for those Regency romance fans seeking a new author.
Note: Tempting Fate is the second book in Johnson's Providence series. The books in the series include:
* As Luck Would Have It (book 1)
* McAlistair's Fortune (book 3)
Review: Surrender to an Irish Warrior
Surrender to an Irish Warrior by Michelle Willingham
May's Review: While some of you have figured out that I kinda like reading about time-traveling Vikings/Navy Seals, I much prefer my Vikings to stay put in one place and time period. Aside from this terrific cover, there is also much to like about the story.
Trahern MacEgan is a medieval Irish bard whose fiance is brutally murdered during a Viking raid. Swearing revenge, Trahern is in the midst of tracking down the raiders when he rescues Morren Ó Reilly, a woman who has been brutalized by the raiders and desperately needs Trahern's help to save her sister and herself. Will he be able to fight past his anger and blood lust to help Morren?
While the story was entirely too predictable at times, both Trahern and Morren are simply endearing and you can't help but not get caught up in their budding romance. If you like a story where the man is all protective but not overbearing and the woman is fragile yet strong-willed and fearless, then this book is for you. Definitely a must read for those who read Willingham's previous novel, Taming Her Irish Warrior.
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