Kim and Kelly’s Review of Rush (Breathless #1) by Maya Banks

rmbJoining me on the blog today is my best reading buddy Kelly, of Reading With Analysis.  Our last dueling review, on Tessa Dare’s Stud Club Trilogy, showcased how romance novels could have depth (in case you didn’t read it, we love deep romance novels).  When we heard about a new erotica trilogy by author Maya Banks called The Breathless Trilogy we figured we had our next book to duel over.  We both read Rush (book one) and had similar feelings about the characters and story overall.  We decided that we wanted to write an open letter to women who are thinking of entering into a relationship similar to the one showcased in Rush.  First, the plot!

From Goodreads: Gabe, Jace, and Ash: three of the wealthiest, most powerful men in the country. They’re accustomed to getting anything they want. Anything at all. For Gabe, it’s making one particular fantasy come true with a woman who was forbidden fruit. Now she’s ripe for the picking…

When Gabe Hamilton saw Mia Crestwell walk into the ballroom for his hotel’s grand opening, he knew he was going to hell for what he had planned. After all, Mia is his best friend’s little sister. Except she’s not so little anymore. And Gabe has waited a long time to act on his desires.

Gabe has starred in Mia’s fantasies more than once, ever since she was a teenager with a huge crush on her brother’s best friend. So what if Gabe’s fourteen years older? Mia knows he’s way out of her league, but her attraction has only grown stronger with time. She’s an adult now, and there’s no reason not to act on her most secret desires.

As Gabe pulls her into his provocative world, she realizes there’s a lot she doesn’t know about him or how exacting his demands can be. Their relationship is intense and obsessive, but as they cross the line from secret sexual odyssey to something deeper, their affair runs the risk of being exposed—and vulnerable to a betrayal far more intimate than either expected.

Dear Woman Who Deserves Better Than What She’s Signing Up For,

We really want to see you with a man who deserves you.  Therefore you should know that if any of the following statements ring true for your relationship, something’s wrong.

  • Did you have to sign a contract with your new “significant other?”
    • If part of the negotiations require you getting him to agree to fidelity to just you…..something’s wrong (especially when there is a whole paragraph about your fidelity to him!)
    • If you need your “significant other’s” permission to hang out with your friends, something’s wrong.
      • If you’re not allowed to speak to your friends about your relationship, something’s wrong.
      • If you get permission to hang out with your friends, and your “significant other” still gets upset because alcohol is involved, something’s wrong.  You’re in your twenties. Live it the fuck up.
    • If your contract stipulates that all your physical and financial needs will be met in return for your ceding all control over yourself and your functions, but said contract makes no mention at all of your emotional well-being, something’s wrong.
    • If your contract states that it’s totally OK for your “significant other” to share you, occasionally, with other people, and you’re not quite sure what that means, so you have to ask about it, something’s wrong.
      • If you might be on the positive side of ambivalent, once it’s explained, that’s cool. But if, when the sharing happens, you aren’t in possession of the full facts, and it’s awful, and it happens anyway, something’s wrong.
        • If your “significant other” shares you without your permission and you get upset, and his response is to just take you on a shopping spree….something’s wrong.
  • So, you’re having sex with your “significant other.”  If he’s constantly shouting at you to give him your eyes, something’s wrong. I mean really, those are your eyes! Why should you give them up?
  • While at the office, if your “significant other” says, “Hey, come over here. I’m going to put this butt plug in you, and you’re going to wear it all day,” something’s wrong. Seriously girl, that’s your butt. What if it’s Mexican lunch day in the office? You gotta say no to that chili because he wants those plugs in you all day? Hells no.
  • If your “significant other” says “I’m looking forward to f**king this sweet ass” more than once (and that once is only if there’s a lot of alcohol involved), something’s wrong.
  • If your “significant other” starts hitting on his dad’s girlfriend, like right in front of you, and you’re like, “What?!” and you leave, and then your “significant other” gets all kinds of angry at you for leaving that shit, something’s wrong.
  • If your “significant other” basically rapes your mouth because he’s too impatient to let you go at your own pace, something’s wrong.
  • If your “significant other” constantly asks you, “Did you eat?” GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE. Your fast metabolism won’t last forever and you’ll just end up obese with the amount of food he keeps plying you with.
  • If your “significant other” wants to pay you an outrageous sum of money so that you’ll be his beck and call girl (and butt-plug recipient), something’s wrong. You’re not a prostitute. You shouldn’t be treated as such.
  • If you have to pay the piper for all the stupid shit your “significant other’s” ex-wife did, something’s wrong.  That’s his baggage, girl, and it shouldn’t have anything to do with you.

As we said earlier, something’s wrong if these statements describe your relationship.  We’d be more than happy to help you get out and find someone much more worthy of you.

With sincere love,

Kelly & Kim

Kim: Now Kelly and I aren’t here to tear the WHOLE book up.  We both thought that Banks’ writing wasn’t terrible. I personally felt that there was a lot of repetition in the story.  Many of the same character traits are repeated over and over and over. Gabe is divorced. Gabe had a divorce. Gabe felt bad that he was rough with Mia. Mia couldn’t believe Gabe was so unrestrained with her. Gabe thinks about how Mia’s brother would feel if he knew how rough he was with her. On and on the repetition went.

Kelly: It’s true.  Banks wrote in complete sentences at a mostly upper-grade reading level, but the sentences were stilted and awkward.  Mia had liked Gabe in the past.  She had spent a lot of time thinking about him.  He had been attracted to her for a long time.  That kind of phrasing is present throughout the entire book, and after awhile, it got a little exhausting to read it.  I longed for a simple, clear, direct, active sentence. Probably, what I most longed for was another round of editing to make the prose more pleasant to read.

Kim: Besides the stilted and repetitive prose, I had a really hard time connecting with the characters (both main and side ones).  First and foremost, Gabe is supposed to be this hot domineering character.  Instead he comes off as a HUGE ass. He’s cold, hard, unyielding, and does what’s in his best interest ALWAYS.  I won’t tell you what happened in Paris, but suffice it to say those events solidified my dislike of the novel more than anything else.

Kelly: Yeah, it was really hard to take Gabriel seriously as the hero in this one, because he’s not remotely heroic.  He doesn’t even do a great job of being all smoldery in his alpha maleness, because he’s too busy making sure that he comes across as an alpha male (when, in actuality, he’s too caught up being wounded about how his marriage didn’t work out).  For example: “‘So impatient,’ he said, amusement in his voice.  ‘We do this my way, Mia. You forget so easily. I want….you as badly as you want me there, but I’m enjoying every second of having you tied up and in my bed. As soon as I get….inside you, I’m not going to last long, so I’m going to savor every second.’”  Isn’t that romantic?  I’ve always fantasized about having a man who won’t last long in the sack.

Mia was also a bit difficult to connect with, mostly because Gabriel was such an asshole. It’s hard to feel admiration for anyone who’d put up with his shit.  She’s not nearly as spineless as some female characters in erotic novels (coughAnacough), but I certainly wouldn’t call her a strong character. I mean, honestly… she signs that damn contract and enters into a “something” with Gabe knowing that it’s not really a relationship, and there isn’t a satisfactory reason given for that.  I don’t know a lot of ladies who would put themselves in that kind of situation without any kind of security at all, and I just couldn’t comprehend Mia’s motivations.

Kim: Yes! I definitely don’t see Mia as a strong willed woman.  She seemed extremely spineless to me and was willing to let Gabe walk all over her just so she could be with him.  I’m sorry, but to me that’s pathetic and desperate.  You’ve been pining over this guy for a long time, get the chance to be with him, and he acts like a jerk! Are you really so obsessed with having a relationship with him that you’re willing to sacrifice any and all self-respect?

Kelly: I also had a few problems with the secondary characters.  I totally get that Banks had to set up the next few books in the series, but there were a lot of references (repetitive ones) to Jace’s and Ash’s backgrounds that were completely distracting in this story.  I was like, “Great, so Ash doesn’t like his family. Fantastic. What does that have to do with whether or not Mia gets fucked in her sweet ass during this encounter with Gabe?”

Kim: TRUE STORY. I too understand about setting up a series, but even the storylines with Mia’s stalker and Gabe’s ex-wife went absolutely nowhere.  They created conflict where none was needed.  I truly felt that with a bit more editing and some cuts to the storyline here and there, the book would have appealed to me more. I can’t say that I would have loved it, because I can’t love a book if I don’t love its characters. And I definitely didn’t love Gabe and Mia.

Kelly: I’d like to bring up one of the weirdest things about this book: the difference (sometimes huge) between what the reader knows (or is thinking) and what the characters know (or are feeling).  For example, there’s a scene in the second half of the book where the reader is privy to Gabe’s thoughts and motivations (both pretty awful), but Mia isn’t.  When the situation blows up all over everything, Mia’s rather quick to forgive Gabe, because she doesn’t actually know how awful it really was, but the reader does.  And the reader is like, dude… that guy is SUCH an asshole… (and he never tells Mia, so the reader goes into the super sappy happy ending knowing he’s a dick, but to Mia, he’s a great catch. Yuck.)  Also, during all the butt plug moments, the characters are both pretty caught up in how awesome and super sexy it is that Gabe keeps shoving things up Mia’s ass.  As a reader, though, I couldn’t get past this thought: “What if she has to poo?”  It completely pulled me out of the story.

Kim: YES TO ALL OF THIS. I think that’s the main reason I couldn’t cheer for this couple.  We know WAY more about Gabe than Mia does.  Unfortunately (or fortunately) we’ve both opted out of continuing with this series.  We have heard from several fans of Bank’s works that this isn’t her best.  Being the open-minded individuals that we are, we’ve decided to try her Sweet Series out.  We’ll be dueling book one in the series, Sweet Surrender, within the next few weeks, so keep an eye out. (Remember, it’s your eyes. You don’t have to give them up!)

Kim: 1 out of 5 Stars
Kelly: 2 out of 5 Stars

Rush by Maya Banks
Penguin Group (2013)
eBook 416 pages
ISBN: 9781101620366

Kim’s Review of The Warrior Trilogy by Lara Adrian

 

……….wllYesterday was Valentine’s Day. What better way to celebrate (a day late) than reviewing some romance novels?  Last year I became entranced by Lord of Vengeance by Lara Adrian.  How can you go wrong with medieval knights? Seriously, knights fighting with swords over a woman’s honor? What wouldn’t I give to be one of those ladies?  Anyway, I chose to read Adrian’s Warrior Trilogy after Lord of Vengeance because of how fantastic Adrian’s medieval world was.  It was gritty, real, and showcased both the good and bad of that time period. And if I’m being honest, I also wanted more hot knights.

Book one of the trilogy is White Lion’s Lady. Plot summary from Goodreads:

Abducted on the way to her wedding, heiress Isabel de Lamere is unaware that the scoundrel planning to use her for his own gain is the cherished champion of her childhood: Griffin, the White Lion. Yet even as she discovers his treachery, Isabel cannot deny that Griffin lingers in her dreams, awakening the passion in her steadfast heart.

Then a twist of fate puts a price on both their heads, embroiling them in a life-and-death chase that will force Griffin to choose between his own freedom and his fierce desire for the woman who would redeem his noble spirit. But to reclaim his lost honor, the White Lion could lose Isabel forever. . . .

Who doesn’t love a good redemption story?  Griffin was Isabel’s knight in shining armor as a child, saving her from a wild boar in the woods.  From that moment on Isabel believes Griffin will grow to be the most deserving, honorable, and cherished knight there is.  When he kidnaps her off the highway ten years later and holds her  for ransom she quickly wonders what happened to him during the years of their separation.  She wonders how a boy who dwelt so much on doing good turned into this passionless, dark, empty soul of a man.  As she is forced into his company on their long journey to her fiance, she begins to understand more of the hardships he underwent during  their separation and how becoming this calm, calculating man was his way to survive.

To watch Griffin’s transformation back to the man he used to be was in a word, breathtaking.  The way he strives to become a good and honorable man/knight not only for Isabel but for himself too is a journey you won’t want to miss.  I sometimes lose interest in books where characters just change to appease their partners. What is the point of that?  I believe change to be something that should come from your own heart and mind, not those of another.  Because Adrian had Griffin transform mostly for himself  I give this work high marks!

Isabelle, on the other hand, is one of those characters that is literally good down to her bones.  She tries to see positive traits in everyone and always tries to have an optimistic point of view.  At times, this led her into bad situations and it was interesting to see how Adrian portrayed this characteristic in a negative and positive light.  It felt like a realistic approach to the character, and I’m glad that Adrian was able to give us another wonderful character to flesh out her work.  In all, this is one you definitely don’t want to miss.

5 out of 5 Stars

White Lion’s Lady by Lara Adrian
Lara Adrian, LLC (2012)
eBook 795 pages
ISBN: 2940014447201

blbBook two of the trilogy is Black Lion’s Bride.  Plot summary from Goodreads:

Daughter of the King of the Assassins, Zahirah was trained to be as deadly as she is beautiful. When she steals into the desert camp of the English army, she has one goal: to banish the crusaders from her homeland by murdering King Richard the Lionheart. Her deceptive strategy delivers her into the hands of the enemy–and puts her at the mercy of the dashing Black Lion, Sebastian of Montborne.

Fighting for peace in a dangerous, exotic land, Sebastian never dreamed that the tides of war would bring him a mysterious beauty in need of his protection. Nor could he guess that the lady who ignites his heart is the very enemy he has sworn to destroy on behalf of his king. Caught in a deadly game of passion and deception, their unbidden love could cost Sebastian and Zahirah their lives. . . .

Black Lion’s Bride was definitely my least favorite of the three.  It went downhill for me from the start, mainly due to the problems I had with Zahirah’s character. Let’s go through what we know of her. She’s the ONLY female Assassin of her kind and is apparently one of the BEST.  Well of course she’s one of the best. Who else but the best would be given the massive responsibility of assassinating King Richard?  Yet she’s barely able to defend herself, help in an ambush, etc.  Every time the reader is given a chance to witness her abilities, she flails and fails.  While the words say she should be strong and lethal, she comes off as weak and defenseless.  Basically, this made me lose faith in her as a character, and it made my reading experience fall flat.

I found the whole ending of the book to be a bit far-fetched and unbelievable.  Between the outcome of the plot to kill the king and the big secret Zahirah’s been keeping, etc, I was asked to suspend too much disbelief as a reader.  While the details of the book fell flat for me, the writing at its base was still strong.

2 out of 5 Stars

Black Lion’s Bride by Lara Adrian
Lara Adrian, LLC (2012)
eBook 847 pages
ISBN: 2940014447447

lovBook three of the trilogy is Lady of Valor. Plot summary from Goodreads:

Left a widow by her cruel husband’s death, Lady Emmalyn of Fallonmour is determined to control her own destiny, until her hard-won vows of independence are threatened by the mysterious warrior sent to protect her castle on order of the king. Emmalyn is now at the mercy of Sir Cabal, a feared knight known as Blackheart.

Skilled at war and hiding a tormented past, Cabal swears allegiance to no one but himself and his country. But once he meets Emmalyn, he finds his strength tested by this proud beauty who stirs his blood with desire, tempting him to defy his king and surrender his heart. . . .

Who doesn’t love a good redemption story?  Cabal has the blackest of hearts and a soul that is as devoid of emotion as a cold winter’s night.  He is the best mercenary and soldier that the King has at his disposal, due to Cabal’s emotionless personality.  When I started reading this book, I had no idea how Adrian would make this character redeemable and worth my time.  As she slowly gives the reader glimpses into his past, he becomes less of a blackened personality and more of a mysterious puzzle.  Emmalyn’s past, on the other hand, is given to us in a rather straightforward way, and her life is an open book.  Her story, most specifically her marriage to her first husband, is devastatingly cruel.  She is a battered woman before the term was ever coined.  Years of psychological and physical abuse took a toll on her and as such, she’s hesitant to trust or reveal her heart to anyone.  These two shells of people battling to become whole once again while struggling to understand new feelings of the heart are wonderful foundations for this work.  This was a great way to end the trilogy, and I’m glad I stuck with it until the end!

4 out of 5 Stars

Lady of Valor by Lara Adrian
Lara Adrian, LLC (2012)
eBook 853 pages
ISBN: 2940014436823

This is my fourth completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge

This is my second completed review for the Color Coded Challenge

Christine’s Review of Everblossom by Larissa Hinton

When I read the description of Everblossom by Larissa Hinton, a collection of poetry and short stories with “a dash of everything from dark fantasy to the paranormal to even romance”, I was definitely intrigued as I’m a sucker for short stories. Give me a Eudora Welty, Dawn Powell or O’ Henry Prize collection and I am a happy and content reader.  Poetry, however, is something I am still learning to love, although I have found I enjoy it most when it is read aloud by my favorite resident of Lake Wobegon. So I was interested to read the collection and see how I reacted to the poems in Everblossom as compared to the short stories.

The collection is divided into three parts: Seed, Bud, and Blossom. Each section included poems and stories relating to childhood and beginnings, adolescence and middles, and adulthood and ends. The concept is interesting—which also sums up my thoughts on the poems and stories. They are interesting, but fall short of what I enjoy and consider a good story.

I thought that many of the short stories had great potential, whether it was a tantalizing plot or unusual character. Unfortunately, they were either confusing or felt incomplete and too short. While I enjoy ambiguous endings and reading between the lines to piece together a complete plot, I don’t think that was the case with these stories. Several read like the beginning of an interesting story, and just as we were figuring out who these characters were and what this story is about, it’s over. As a reader, I felt as if the plot and characters were cut off mid-sentence rather than reading a full story that left me wanting more. One story was so short, it read like a few paragraphs lifted from a chapter of a book. In fact, I don’t think I can summarize the stories without giving away the entire beginning, middle, and end.

As for the poems, like I said earlier, I really like the idea and concept, but I thought many of them were a bit heavy-handed and didn’t think they quite fit in with the stories in the collection. I did enjoy the “WSV” (Words Speak Volumes) poems, which were composed of single word lines and reminded me of Radiohead’s “Fitter Happier“.

I did notice in the table of contents that over half of the stories contain characters from two of the author’s books, of which only one is available. However, that book was published after Everblossom was released, so I don’t think the author intended readers to have previous knowledge of the characters and world those stories are from to understand what exactly is going on in them.

Overall, I think this collection is full of interesting ideas and characters; I only wish they had been fleshed out more. As it is, I was left feeling unsatisfied as a reader.

2.5 out of 5 Stars

Everblossom by Larissa Hinton
Larissa Hinton (2011)
eBook: 61 pages
ISBN: 2940013099647

Special thanks to Ms. Hinton for my review copy!

#109-110 Gabriel’s Inferno & Gabriel’s Rapture by Sylvain Reynard

One of the AWESOME things about being a book blogger is being able to converse with other readers/bloggers and form amazing friendships. My buddy Kelly of Reading With Analysis is one of the people I have been able to get to know through our shared love of books.  Kelly and I often shoot tweets and emails off to each other about books that we’re either starting or planning on reading.  Since we’ve found that our tastes are so alike, we often have the same thoughts on books upon finishing them.  When I told Kelly about Gabriel’s Inferno and Gabriel’s Rapture by Sylvain Reynard and how much I liked it, she instantly said she’d read it.  Upon completion we realized that for the first time in our bookish friendship, we had vastly differing opinions.  I’ve convinced Kelly to come on the blog today to discuss this book series with me!

Before we begin I have some quick notes!  My college roommate Ashley is actually the one that told me about Gabriel’s Inferno.  Ashley heard it being compared to Fifty Shades of Grey (review here) in a positive way.  Knowing how I felt about those books, she hesitantly passed the recommendation on to me.  We all know I pretty much hated Fifty Shades of Grey so I was a bit reluctant to try it.  I, however, am not one to say no to book/genre recommendations others give me because of one bad apple. (I stuck with the erotica genre and discovered The Siren (my review/Kelly’s review) and freaking loved it.)  Anyway – to make a long story short – I accepted the recommendation and finished both books in Reynard’s “Gabriel” series over a weekend.

Upon finishing the book and tweeting about it, I discovered a world of people who were NOT the biggest fans of this book.  Comments about misogyny, cheese platters (Cyndy, I’m looking at you), fan fiction, and Twilight were all thrown out.  I had NO idea what I was in for and immediately looked to my buddy Kelly to be on my side of the discussion block. The rest, well, read on and find out.

I’m letting Goodreads do the summary talks for us so that we can get right into the discussion.

Gabriel’s Inferno: Enigmatic and sexy, Professor Gabriel Emerson is a well-respected Dante specialist by day, but by night he devotes himself to an uninhibited life of pleasure. He uses his notorious good looks and sophisticated charm to gratify his every whim, but is secretly tortured by his dark past and consumed by the profound belief that he is beyond all hope of redemption. When the sweet and innocent Julia Mitchell enrolls as his graduate student, his attraction and mysterious connection to her not only jeopardizes his career, but sends him on a journey in which his past and his present collide. An intriguing and sinful exploration of seduction, forbidden love and redemption, “Gabriel’s Inferno” is a captivating and wildly passionate tale of one man’s escape from his own personal hell as he tries to earn the impossible…forgiveness and love.

Gabriel’s Rapture: Professor Gabriel Emerson has embarked on a passionate, yet clandestine affair with his former student, Julia Mitchell. Sequestered on a romantic holiday in Italy, he tutors her in the sensual delights of the body and the raptures of sex. But when they return, their happiness is threatened by conspiring students, academic politics, and a jealous ex-lover. When Gabriel is confronted by the university administration, will he succumb to Dante’s fate? Or will he fight to keep Julia, his Beatrice, forever? In Gabriel’s Rapture, the brilliant sequel to the wildly successful debut novel, Gabriel’s Inferno, Sylvain Reynard weaves an exquisite love story that will touch the reader’s mind, body, and soul, forever.

Kim: Upon finishing these books I heard from multiple people who know my taste in books that they were shocked I enjoyed them!  The term misogynistic got thrown around pretty heavily and I kept scratching my head saying, “what did I miss?”  I opted to do re-reads of the books prior to writing this review to get a fresh perspective and keep my eyes and mind open to what I missed on the first go around.

During my second reading I could definitely understand the misogynistic feelings, slightly.  I know some of my friends were unhappy with how Gabriel didn’t think Julia could function without his care and love.  This is the first aspect of the book I’d like to address.  Yes, Gabriel is at times COMPLETELY OVERWHELMING.  His need to make sure Julia is eating, has heat, has clothes, etc can be a bit much.  I chose to focus more on the aspects of him that were I think more important.  As overbearing as Gabriel could be at times, deep down he genuinely cared for Julia.  His respect of her decision to remain a virgin for the foreseeable future (due to events in her past) should be duly noted.  He also is completely supportive of her educational aspirations and does nothing but encourage her with readings she should expand her knowledge with, etc.  Yes, there is an overbearing aspect to Gabriel’s nature, but I think a lot of that has to do with his past, MAIA, and his addictions.

Gabriel had an INSANE drug problem in his past.  He used to get into coked out hazes and not even realize what was going on around him.  I won’t go into the details behind what MAIA means, but suffice it to say it’s that event that has him struggling to constantly protect those around him.  His past has scarred him in a way that being an overbearing “protector” is the only way he knows how to functionally love someone.  I want it noted that in both books he struggles so much with this part of his personality.  Julia’s presence in his life does bring this side of him out in full force, but the more she is in his life and the more he allows her presence and personality to calm him, the less overbearing he seems.

Kelly: Gabriel’s issues stemming from his drug abuse make sense, sort of.  I mean, it makes sense that he would carry around some guilt about some of the crazy nonsense that happened while he was hopped up on cocaine, and it makes sense that he would take steps to prevent himself from repeating any of those errors.  His past drug abuse does not explain his insanely protective attitude toward Julia, but her complete inability to do anything on her own might prompt this reaction in him.

Kim: Julia at first seems really weak-minded (which makes the overbearing aspect of Gabriel’s personality worse), but this too is due to the past.  Her ex-boyfriend has mentally messed her up so badly that she has no idea of her worth.  This is why Gabriel and Julia work in my eyes.  They both are scarred really badly from their pasts, but with the help of each other and the steadiness of their love, they can learn to overcome what others have done to them.

Kelly:  Julia is a weaksauce diddlehead.  The reader is told, repeatedly, that she’s brilliant, but there’s no real proof throughout the book.  Gabriel thinks she’s a moron when he first meets her, and it isn’t until he accompanies her home, finds out that she got into Harvard but couldn’t attend for financial reasons and sees her as sexually attractive that he begins to invent and flaunt her intelligence.  I mean, seriously, at the beginning he recognizes that she’s kind of special ed (leaving a condolence note for him and not noticing what’s written on the other side–Emerson is an ass–not to mention all the daydreaming in class, yada yada yada) and takes steps to get her kicked out of the Master’s program.  Then he takes her out to dinner and is all drooly over how sexy she is when she drinks wine.  Then he stands up for her when he overhears Christa (the bitchy fellow student) call her stupid, and from then on there’s no convincing him that she’s not the brightest star in the sky.  The problem is that she never actually acts all that intelligent, so his decision to view her as Ms. Smarty-Mc-Smarty just seems… odd.

Anyway, in addition to Julia’s weakness in the upstairs departments, she’s also got crazy baggage. Julia had a bad boyfriend in her past.  He was so bad, he, like, cheated on her and stuff, and he was, like, so mean.  (Just a warning to all the fifteen-year-old girls that I know… I don’t have very much compassion for the fallout of bad relationships.)  OK, so I have a few problems with Julia’s lingering issues from her bad boyfriend.  1.  Julia is 23-years-old at the start of this story, but you’d never know it by her level of emotional maturity.  2.  Yes, he was a bad boyfriend, but I don’t know any women who don’t have at least one bad boyfriend in their pocket, and none of them was destroyed by her bad relationship experience.  3.  I’m not kidding – destroyed.  Julia withdraws from everyone she knows and gets even more shy and insecure around men.  She can’t even stand to think her bad boyfriend’s name… He’s always him and he, like he’s Lord Voldythingy or something.  Have you ever talked to a fifteen year old girl about her relationship experiences?  That’s what reading Julia’s take on her relationship with Simon is like.  Ugh.  But she was 21 (or so) when their relationship ended, and 23 when she’s remembering it.  I kept wishing she would act like it.

Kim: I am 100% agreeing with you on the Simon thoughts.  Up until the incident with him at Thanksgiving (Simon runs into Julia’s house and physically assaults her) the worst thing he did was cheat on her.  Let’s talk real life here for a second folks. I’ve been cheated on. It sucks. You get over it. You move on. Seriously, it sucks, but the way to get the cheating bastard back is to pick your head up, move on, and find someone new.  Julia’s response to the relationship ending is equivalent to every person you know in your entire life dying at the same time. Add to that your house blowing up, all of your money and car getting stolen, and then some. Oh and the world is going to end in a day.  I’ve honestly never in my life read anyone taking a break up as bad as this woman did.  I’ve read books with the female characters having been sexually assaulted and they didn’t act like Julia.

Kelly: Yes!  Julia’s nonsense was one of my biggest problems with this book, but of course, a lot bothered me. (I could not be bothered to read the second installment of the story, so my comments are limited to Gabriel’s Inferno only.)  I guess it makes sense to start at the beginning, because that’s where the book lost me.  One of the biggest issues I had with the book was its inconsistent voice.  Our first introduction to Julia comes through the narrator who seems to use Paul’s POV in describing Julia (the frightened rabbit) and Christa (the bitchy cat), and Julia’s POV in describing Gabriel and Paul.  Julia is small, pale, delicate, rabbit-like; Gabriel is coldly, remotely handsome in a symmetrical way; Christa is a cat in heat; and Paul is good-looking and friendly. The narrator of this book has an identity crisis, and it shows up on page one.  I kept reading, hoping that the inconsistency issues were just a sign of unfinished editing business and would clear up eventually.  They didn’t.  In fact, they got worse.  After about a hundred pages, I started complaining, but by that point I wasn’t just annoyed about the writing.

Kim: I’m jumping in here to say dear god did I hate Paul.  If there is ONE THING I can say I hated from cover to cover, it was Paul. His incessant need of calling Julia his rabbit – I WANTED TO VOMIT.  If there is one character that I COULD agree with on the misogynistic front it could be Paul.  Seriously, he thinks Julia is incapable of holding a door open without him. He is constantly trying to shade Julia from anything that life could possibly throw at her.  It’s ok Paul, walking in the rain won’t kill her.

Kelly: I didn’t see Gabriel as being either more or less misogynistic than Paul.  Julia can’t manage to get her key in the lock around Gabriel (hardy har), so he steps in and does it for her.  He hates her bag, so he buys her a new one.  She can’t eat on her own, apparently, or only eats veggies and couscous, so he feeds her, etc. etc. etc.  He might not be so obvious about it as Paul (he calls her Julianne rather than Rabbit and never compares her to a children’s book character just waiting to be actualized by his manly love–penis–and it might originate from his inclination to protect her from the evil forces of the world (all that innocence destroying that goes on when a poor girl doesn’t eat enough steak), but it comes down to the same result.  Julia is helpless, so Gabriel steps in with a whole bunch of help, whether or not she wants or needs it.  Now, later, when he steps in and is all heroic during the Simon situation, he displays an acceptable level of protectiveness from an actual threat to Julia’s safety, but all the in-Toronto-in-the-beginning stuff is just annoying.

Kim: See, with the things that Gabriel did to/for Julia I got a different sense of why he did it.  Maybe I’m not explaining everything correctly, but Paul’s motives (in my opinion) seemed to come directly from his thinking that Julia couldn’t handle herself.  Even in class he is always trying shield her from Gabriel’s questions etc etc.  Gabriel on the other hand (again, in my opinion) does things for Julia because he loves her.  Once he realizes who she is his motives towards her change.  He wants to take her to dinner and feed her because he knows she really has no money.  Her bag breaks and he knows she can’t afford a new one.  He knows her reasons for being unable to attend Harvard (lack of scholarship) and wants to get her an amazing advisor so that she can get that scholarship.

Kelly:  Well, he wants to get her an amazing advisor so he can bump fuzzies with her.  It is true, sad to say.

Kim: Did you really get the sense that the only reason Gabriel wanted her was to have sex with her? Because I can honestly say (and maybe this is because I read Rapture too) but I never felt as though he was with her for sex.  Like he was hitting up that club and picking women up all the time.  Why would he leave that to be with a virgin who was afraid to become intimate with him because of a jackass ex-boyfriend from her past?

Kelly:  Some men have a… fascination with innocence.  Julia is an innocent character, and it’s her angelic innocence that draws Gabriel in, both during the long-ago encounter in the apple orchard and while he gets to know her in Toronto.  (Part of his anger with Paul is that Paul, not being a professor, is free to fuck the angel, and Gabriel is jealous that he can’t do the same thing.)  He respects her fear of sex, but the main reason that he’s OK with delaying her de-flowering is that it will work better with his timing.  They can date and pretty much live together until the semester is over and she’s no longer his student, and the instant that happens, her hymen is going to get burst.  Of course, that works for Julia, too, because by that point in their relationship she’s an eager participant, but it’s all about Gabriel being the one to pop her cherry, to give her knowledge of the relations between a man and a woman.  He’s going to teach her good, to learn her in all the sensual things that can happen between a man and a woman.  What man would rather have casual sex with random hussies that he meets in a bar than have an experience wherein his experience can so vastly outweigh that of his counterpart, where he can play the god who gets to make the angel real, make a woman out of her… ?

Kim: Yeah, I can see all that but I still question it because of what I know from Rapture. I know that you haven’t read Rapture and I apologize for those reading, but I’m going to do some spoilers here! In Rapture their relationship is discovered by the college board and an investigation is started.  To make a long story short, Gabriel agrees to take a leave of absence, cut ALL ties (I mean it) with Julia, and let her finish out her year and graduate.  Julia is forlorn over Gabriel’s sudden departure and upon graduation and her move to Boston to begin work on her PhD she and Gabriel get back together.  During their time apart she becomes a stronger person (this isn’t that hard, considering she’s pretty weak-minded to begin with) and actually doesn’t agree to get back together with Gabriel upon his return.  When circumstances allow them to get back together he tells Julia that he won’t have sex with her until their relationship is a.) more stable and b.) more permanent.  Julia balks at this at first, but agrees to accept his wishes just as he accepted hers to keep the beginning of their relationship slow.

Now I go back to my question about is he really with her for sex?  I can see your argument for book one, but as their relationship moves into this new chapter post-school scandal in book two I can’t help but debate it again.  This time it’s Gabriel holding back and wanting to slow things down.  Wanting to prove to Julia that he’s in this relationship for the long haul and that sex wasn’t the glue holding them together.  I have to give him some respect there.

Kelly:  Is it sex, or is it control?  Gabriel essentially has control over when they have sex in the first place, though Julia is in agreement with the timing.  It’s so romantic, after all, to lose one’s virginity in Italy rather than Canada.  Later, when he returns and wants to restart their relationship, albeit without sex, it’s still about him deciding when they will have a sexual relationship.  Gabriel is in control of the situation insofar as he has more knowledge than Julia does.  If you look at their relationship as a power construct, Gabriel holds more power for a few reasons: 1. he’s older, 2. he’s Julia’s professor, 3. he has more sexual knowledge than Julia does, more awareness of himself and of her.

Kim: I felt that in book two Julia really held the keys to the kingdom.  He’s ready to just pick up being together again when he comes back from the school induced separation.  Julia won’t allow it though.  Gabriel wants her to meet him to talk and she won’t do it.  She clearly says to him that she’s moving on with her life, as hard as it is without him.  It’s when all this happens that he tells her that he wants to prove his worth to her and prove that their love is something special and worth saving.  She makes that boy work to get back in her good graces.  The sex thing isn’t him withholding for control, it’s him withholding to show her that he can control himself and is worth taking a second chance on.  He’s trying to prove he’s in it for the long haul.

Kelly:  Well, not having read Rapture, I’ll have to agree with you.  🙂  I’ll revise my sex/control response to try to clarify what I mean about Gabriel just being with her for the sex.  I don’t think that’s it… I think it’s more about the intoxication of being with someone who is innocent.

Kim: That’s a PERFECT segue into the next thing we wanted to discuss.  The Twilight aspects of these novels! I had a more difficult time seeing the relationship, but Kelly didn’t! Take it away my friend!

Kelly: At about two hundred pages into the book, I asked Kim if this was some sort of half-cocked 50 Shades fan fiction, because it seemed to me to be Twilight fan fiction twice removed with lots of unnecessary cursing thrown in for shits and giggles (you like that?), and she told me that she had lately discovered that it is Twilight fan fiction.  I can totally see the Twilight fan fic tie-ins, but this book is fan fic of New Moon (except that Edward/Gabriel has drug-induced amnesia), not the first Twilight novel.  That means that emotionally, the reader jumps into a story that is full of unexplained melodrama (melodrama FOR DAYS).  You meet Julia and Gabriel, and Julia feels SO MUCH (too much, I thought).  She recognizes Gabriel in all his symmetrical splendor, and she keeps waiting for him to recognize her.  But he doesn’t   She’s going through all the Bella “OMG, he totally left me, and now I, like, totally can’t survive!” crap, but Gabriel’s right there, and we (readers) just met both of them and have NO IDEA what in the hell all this high drama and emotion is all about.  The first two hundred pages of the book were full of WTFery, to me, because I couldn’t figure out what in the hell these characters were feeling towards each other, and I also couldn’t figure out why in the hell I should care about their drama.

Kim: I can DEFINITELY see the New Moon plot line in Rapture. And the whole Bella/Edward obsessive relationship is obvious.  But besides that the Twilight comparisons weren’t as clear to me as they were in say Fifty Shades.  

Kelly:  OK, there’s the intense first meeting.  Gabriel is soooo angry, and Julia (and the reader) has no idea why.  To me, that was immediately reminiscent of Edward’s “I think I want to kill you” meeting with Bella.  There’s the well-meaning but slightly creepy friend, Paul.  (As an aside, I can hang with the Team Jacob stuff, because Jacob is kind of funny in the books, but no one is going to be on Team Paul.)  Gabriel’s whole “I’m dangerous, I’m obsessed with lust, sins follow me around” thing has shades of “I’m no hero, I’m a bad guy, you should stay away from me for your own good” Edward nonsense.

Kim: If a Team Paul ever showed up, I think I’d cry.

Kelly:  I would wear a Team Paul in irony.  No one would understand.

Kim: HA. Promise me you will never sell Team Paul shirts. I’ll accept one person’s irony. I can’t handle two.

Kelly:  I promise.  🙂

Kim: Excellent. I’m holding you to it.  So now before we sign off on these books I had one more thing I wanted to discuss – Dante.  So a big discussion point within the novel is Dante and his works.  A lot is referenced in regards to the relationship between Dante and Beatrice.  Now prior to reading Inferno and Rapture I had never read anything by Dante.  Just reading these novels and reading the Dante discussions within the book made me go out and buy The Divine Comedy.  I’m curious to learn more about the relationship between the poet and his real life muse Beatrice.  Did you become curious about them too, or is it just me? Much has been said (negatively) about the views of Dante and his works discussed in Inferno and Rapture.  Personally my stance has always been, if someone says something that makes you curious to do further reading, then it was a worthwhile thing to say. What do you think, Kelly?

Kelly: I read The Divine Comedy in high school and again after college. (I totally did not understand it the first time around… Not sure I quite got it the second time, either, but at least I got the impulse to read it out of my system.)  I don’t have a general problem with the Dante discussions in this book, but only one of them really had an obvious tie-in to the story or characters and was, somewhat predictably, the only Dante discussion that I enjoyed.  In case you’re interested, the Dante discussion that I enjoyed was the argument Gabriel and Julia have in class about whether or not Beatrice was just a bitch leading Dante on (and whether or not Dante was just an asshole).  For the rest of it, I was like, “Dante… *yawn*…” because if I was supposed to care about Gabriel and Julia and whether they would ever work out their issues or whether they would ever have sex (because that’s actually the point of the book, with the whole of Gabriel’s Inferno leading up to Julia’s deflowering), the Dante lectures were a bit distracting.  I thought the author could not quite decide whether to write an academic work about Dante, a young adult Twilight fan fic story, a romance novel, or an erotica novel, and she just decided to combine all her working drafts into one giant story that pretty much represents the worst of all four worlds.  (Well, to be fair, I’m sure she didn’t intend for it to be that bad… it just is.)

Kim: HAHA – You have a way with words my friend.  I think we’ve gotten our different viewpoints off fairly well for everyone.  I hope that whether you chose to read the books or not, you jump in on our discussion! We’re always down for talking with other book lovers!

Kim’s Rating: Inferno 3 out of 5 Stars, Rapture 3 out of 5 Stars

Kelly’s Rating: Inferno 1.5 out of 5 stars Rapture (didn’t read it, because I took the earliest exit off this crazy train.)

Gabriel’s Inferno by Sylvain Reynard
Penguin Group (2012)
Paperback: 560 pages
ISBN: 9781101614785

Gabriel’s Rapture by Sylvain Reynard
Penguin Group (2012)
Paperback: 432 pages
ISBN: 9781101614778

#100-106 The Fairy Tale Series by Eloisa James

I don’t know what it is but there is something about a romantic fairy tale that just draws me in.  It could be the stories about a person of the lower classes finding love with a handsome prince or princess. Maybe it’s that a beastly man can have a magnanimous transformation completely due to the effects of the love from a steady woman? Or a woman deemed ugly suddenly finds confidence and beauty in herself because one person believes in her? Fairy tales have this mythical aura about them that make anything possible when you add love into the mix.  Love stories in general suck me in, but I get tired of reading about fairly ordinary people sometimes.  I like the stories of slumbering princesses being woken with true love’s kiss, princes willing to fight a dragon for their lady-love, etc etc.  Fairy tales at the end of the day are EPIC love stories. Who can resist them?  I’m lucky that I’ve found a fellow blogging friend, Kelly of Reading With Analysis, who is also highly in love with fairy tales.  We both started reading A Kiss at Midnight by Eloisa James and started discussing. (Kelly discusses her thoughts on A Kiss at Midnight here) I bought the remainder of the books in the series currently available and read them while on vacation in August. I’m super late in posting my thoughts on the series, but it’s better late than never!

The first book in the series A Kiss at Midnight is a re-imagined Cinderella story.  Cinderella, or Kate in this novel, is forced to remain an unmarried woman in her stepmother’s home for several reasons.  First, her father bequeathed his entire fortune to Kate’s stepmother and stepsister, leaving Kate to survive on their whim (those who know the story of Cinderella know where this is going).  Secondly, due to the greedy nature of Kate’s stepmother, Kate realizes she must stay at the home to try and be a buffer for all of the servants and estate folk.  Kate sacrifices her dreams of happiness to do what is best for those around her.  When an injury prevents her stepsister from making her debut at a royal party, Kate is forced to don a disguise and go in her stead or see those she cares about lose their positions.  It is at this party that she meets His Royal Highness, Prince Gabriel.  Gabriel is doing his damnedest to support a menagerie of animals and people who have been thrown out of his brother’s court.  To this extent he has promised to marry a foreign princess with a huge dowry.  However when he and Kate share a kiss at midnight everything changes…..

I really really really really love Kate and Gabriel.  The two are both willing to 100% sacrifice their own happiness for the betterment of those around them.  They are both self-sacrificing characters to a degree that while deserving of their own happy endings, refuse to accept them if everyone around then can’t have one too.  To watch them both grow as individuals from the effects of their love for each other was wonderful.  Kate has been led to believe that she’s not attractive and not worth anyone’s time or attention.  After hearing this for years, it’s set in as the truth in her mind.  Gabriel (and Kate’s godmother Henry) try to continually make her see what she looks like through their eyes.  Their efforts eventually pay off and the results are magical.  The last 80 pages are absolutely wonderful and so well written that I couldn’t wait to continue on with the series.

Final Thoughts: I wish Kate didn’t have to be one of those heroines that doesn’t realize her own worth and potential without being prodded by others, but understand its place in a Cinderella retelling.  Definitely a great start to a wonderful series.

4 out of 5 Stars

A Kiss at Midnight by Eloisa James
HarperCollins (2010)
eBook: 384 pages
ISBN: 9780062005366

As an added bonus James wrote a novella to pair with A Kiss at Midnight entitled Storming the Castle.  It revolves around Wick, Prince Gabriel’s illegitimate half-brother/butler.  Kate and Gabriel have just had their first child, Jonas.  Jonas is unfortunately a sickly baby getting thinner and thinner which has set the castle in a tizzy.  Wick has sent away for nursemaids and doctors hoping someone will be able to help young Jonas through this mysterious illness.  Phillipa Damson, gentry from a nearby village, answers the call for help to escape her pending marriage to a rather large bottomed idiot whom she’s lost her virginity to.  She arrives at the castle and is able to diagnose the baby’s illness as simple colic.  She remains at the castle for the foreseeable future caring for the baby and falling in love with Wick.  Wick refuses to begin a relationship with her however due to their differing social statues.  It’s up to Phillipa to make him realize that love is more important than social rankings.  Will she be able to convince him?

I’ve loved Wick since first reading about him in A Kiss at Midnight.  He always had a great head on his shoulders and his relationship with Gabriel was extremely touching.  I have to say that I’m slightly disappointed with his story.  Phillipa is a great match for him, but her story is…..kinda stupid.  Her fiancée has loved her since he was a boy, truly.  There are lines in the story where she says she can see the love he holds for her in his eyes.  He seemed to get shit on simply for having a large bottom and being a bit on the dumb side.  If he had mistreated her I could understand her sudden unwillingness to marry him.  I do hope to see Wick again in the future, as his epilogue made me smile a goofy grin.

Final Thoughts: For a novella I guess I shouldn’t be expecting tons of character development.

3 out of 5 Stars

Storming the Castle by Eloisa James
HarperCollins (2010)
eBook: 100 pages
ISBN: 9780062074058

Book two, When Beauty Tamed the Beast is a re-imagined version of Beauty and the Beast, which just so happens to be my favorite fairy tale! Piers Yelverton plays quite the beast in this tale.  As the Earl of Marchant, he lives in a secluded castle in Wales where his medical diagnostician expertise is well-known.  Piers’ father, determined to continue on the family line, looks for a wife for his son.  Piers’ temper precedes him, however, and rumors abound as to his treatment of those who seek medical help there.  Rumors also swirl around Linnet Thrynne, who the Ton believes to be pregnant although there is no truth to the rumor.  Even so, Linnet becomes betrothed to Piers by his father in the hopes that her “pregnancy” will give the Earl an heir.  Will Linnet and Piers ever be able to live together despite Piers’ temper?

As of the date of this review I’ve read all the books in the fairy tale series.  Piers and Linnet hands down have the best story.  Their relationship of sparring wits was such a pleasure to read and kept me snickering throughout the whole book.  Piers is exactly like House (yes, the House from the TV show), with his bum leg, short temper, and incredible medical diagnostic skills.  Everyone pretty much allows him to run rough shod over them due to their fear of his anger.  In comes Linnet with her high society manners that hide her bluestocking, intelligent wit.  When her and Piers start going at it, he quickly realizes that this woman could be trouble.  Piers knows that his penchant for misery and unhappiness is self-made and Linnet forces him to re-evaluate its worth.  Linnet on the other hand realizes her courtly manners and practiced flirting mean nothing to this untamed beast.  If she truly wishes to earn his heart she must be herself, forget what society dictates, and force him to see how much he needs her. I seriously want to just keep gushing over this book and these two characters.  They’re not your ordinary romance heroine/hero, aka the female in need of rescuing and the hero to do it.  In essence the roles are reversed here, making Linnet the savior.

Final Thoughts: As I expected, James’s superb writing wooed me into loving this book.  Ok, ok, so did Piers.

5 out of 5 Stars

When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James
HarperCollins (2011)
eBook: 384 pages
ISBN: 9780062041753

Before reading book three, The Duke is Mine, I suggest reading the novella Winning the Wallflower.  The heroine of book three, Olivia, attends a ball with her friend Lucy.  Lucy has just been bequeathed a fortune from one of her relatives and is now free to look for a better engagement for herself.  Lucy’s problem though is that she’s extremely tall and not very confident in herself.  She is engaged to a man of trade who she believes to be the most handsome man in the world, the only problem is that he is disdainfully distant.  When he calls on her he barely speaks to her, he has never tried to kiss her or show any emotion with her.  When her parents force her to break her engagement with him, she decides to confront him and his cool nature hoping that he’ll open up to her and save her from being thrown back into the arms of fortune hunters.  How will the ever calm Cyrus react to this new confident Lucy?

I have to admit, I really liked Lucy.  I give her a ton of credit for demanding that love be part of her life and not settling for less.  For a woman of that time period, it wasn’t a common occurrence for love to be part of the marriage equation.  Marriage was simply a social, economic, and political decision.  Women didn’t have the ability to choose their beaus like they do today.  I’m happy that James wrote a heroine that didn’t let her parents push her into making rash decisions and chose instead to follow her own conscience.   Cyrus on the other hand proves to have a good head on his shoulders when he decides to re-evaluate the way he acts.  Lucy gives him a major talking to that forces him to step back and regroup.  His life up to this point has been exactly how he’s planned it to be and with Lucy’s sudden change in demeanor, he questions the value of his former plan.

Final Thoughts: Great novella! Definitely worth the $.99 I paid for it!

4 out of 5 Stars

Winning the Wallflower by Eloisa James
HarperCollins (2011)
eBook: 100 pages
ISBN: 9780062191823

Book three, The Duke is Mine, is really The Princess and the Pea.  Tarquin, the Duke of Sconce, has quite the problem.  His mother, the matriarch of the family who wrote a widely acclaimed work on manners and decorum, is searching for a suitable Duchess to complement her son.  Tarquin’s first wife was prone to mood swings and wanton in her behavior, definitely not desirable characteristics for a Duchess  Tragically, she drowned in an accident along with their son, leaving Tarquin heartbroken.  Now, Tarquin’s mother has arranged for the Lytton sisters, Georgiana and Olivia, to come to the estate and test Georgiana’s worthiness as a potential match for Tarquin as Olivia is already betrothed   The problem is that Tarquin can’t take his eyes off of Olivia.  The opposite of her sister, Olivia is headstrong and unconventional, making Tarquin second guess his mother’s attempts to woo Georgiana.  Will cutting Olivia from his thoughts be enough to resist her pull on him?  What will Tarquin’s mother make of his actions?

Of all the books in the series, I had the hardest time connecting to this one.  One of the main reasons I took issue with this book was because of the character of Olivia’s betrothed, Rupert.  Rupert had a difficult birth and was left without air to his brain for some time.  As such he has developmental issues and is on the slow side.  The fact that there is a slow character in the novel is not what I take umbrage  it’s the way the other characters, including his own father and betrothed, mock him.  Rupert is a super sweet character who wants to go off to war to prove the worth of his family name before he takes over the Dukedom and starts a family.  He cares for an abused dog, Lucy, and is just super kind to everyone he meets.  The fact that almost every character in the book makes fun of him in some way really pissed me off.  Making fun of handicapped people in any capacity is not ok and should never be used as a plot point.  I think it was really poorly done and in bad taste.

Final Thoughts: Thankfully each of the books in the series, reads as a stand-alone novel.  With that being said, I’d skip this one altogether.

2 out of 5 Stars

The Duke is Mine by Eloisa James
HarperCollins (2011)
eBook: 400 pages
ISBN: 9780062096364

Book four, The Ugly Duchess, is a new version of The Ugly Duckling.  James Ryburn, the heir to the Duchy of Ashbrook, has it all.  He’s handsome, rich, and the most wanted bachelor in the Ton.  It therefore shocks everyone when he marries Theodora Saxby, a plain woman by society’s standards, considered “mannish” by many.  Theo knows this, and is skeptical, but eventually accepts his proposal.  When she soon learns the object of his desires was not her looks or wit, but instead her dowry, she is outraged and they separate.  Can James convince her that he actually loves her for who she is, or is he destined to live life apart from the “ugly Duchess”, who transforms into a beautiful swan?

::Sigh:: I really wanted to like this book.  I liked the direction of the story and was SO happy when Theo finally found confidence in herself and became a fashion icon.  She seemed to finally get some steel in her spine only to lose it when James came back from being a pirate.  I really wanted her to find a new person to love and kick weak-minded James to the curb.  Honestly, he leaves her FOR YEARS.  She repairs the debts his estates had, deals with the gossip that his abandonment incurs on her, and remains a faithful wife.  James on the other hand becomes a pirate without a care in the world, wooing women all over the globe.  It’s honestly just ridiculous.  The double standard just pissed me off.

Final Thoughts: Had Theo been given a new lover to love after James left her this would have been a five-star book.

3 out of 5

The Ugly Duchess by Eloisa James
HarperCollins (2012)
eBook: 384 pages
ISBN: 9780062197962

So there you have it. The entire Fairy Tale series by Eloisa James to date! On October 30th, James’ newest novella, Seduced by the Pirate is being released.  It’s directly related to The Ugly Duchess.  Even though the last two books didn’t impress the hell out of me I’m still sticking with the series.  After all, who can resist a fairy tale?

This is my forty-second completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Playing Catch Up: Romance Edition

So if you’ve been following my progress of reading 110 books this year, you’ll know that I’m REALLY close to my 100th book.  In fact, I’m planning on finishing my 96th book today! You can also tell that I’m SO far behind on my book reviews. (Only on 63!) With that in mind I’m going to play catch up and do some mini-reviews on books I don’t feel like writing full reviews for.  Since I have a bunch of romance novels that still need to be reviewed, I figured I’d make my first catch-up post dedicated to them!

#64 – Lady Rosabella’s Ruse by Ann Lethbridge – Summary from Goodreads:

None of the women at an “anything goes” house party catches Garth Evernden’s jaded eye. The only one worth noting is a covered-up lady’s companion with an intriguing hint of exotic beauty the eighth Baron Stanford would like to uncover Rose is in fact posing as a widow to find her inheritance—without it, she and her sisters will surely perish! The baron is known for his generosity, and he is so very handsome! A new solution springs to Rose’s mind…surely becoming mistress to this rake would bring definite advantages?

So while the concept of the story was pretty interesting, the characters were a bit blah for me.  Rose was super whiny and caused me to grate my teeth after a while.  Garth had his annoying parts as well, but was nowhere near as annoying as Rose was.  The misconceptions that Garth and Rose had about each other got so aggravating at times that I just didn’t want to read anymore.  I think I would have been able to enjoy the book more without so many damn conflicts.  Seriously, it was one right after the other.  Misconceived notion #1, they make-up, she runs away, he finds her, they make-up, misconceived notion #2, she runs away, he finds her, they make-up, they part ways, misconceived notion #3, he comes back, she runs away, they find each other, etc etc.  It was extremely tedious after a while.

Final thoughts: There are better romances out there that spend more time developing characters and those characters love story.  I’d suggest reading those instead.

2 out of 5 Stars

Lady Rosabella’s Ruse by Ann Lethbridge
Harlequin (2012)
Paperback: 288 pages
ISBN: 9780373296781

#65 – Jonah’s Bride by Jillian Hart – Summary from Goodreads:

Bound by Duty – Army Major Jonah Hunter has spent his lifetime answering the call of duty, but when he returns to the Connecticut village where he was raised to be at his dying father’s bedside, he faces his biggest challenge yet; finding a bride. Jonah’s father’s dying wish is to see his oldest son married and settled down, and although Jonah has no desire to do either, he is duty bound to honor his father’s wish. While all of the village’s marriage-aged women are throwing themselves his way, Jonah is drawn to the one woman who wants nothing to do with him; the sharp-tongued, spinster Tessa Bradford.

As the village healer, Tessa has spent many days and nights in the Hunter home caring for the Jonah’s ailing father and watching as local women throw themselves at the Army hero. Labeled as harsh and severe, Tessa knows there is no way the village’s most eligible bachelor will be interested in her. But sparks fly between the unlikely couple. When Jonah proposes to Tessa, she must decide whether his offer was made out of love or simply because his father needs a nursemaid. Unwilling to be stuck in a loveless marriage, Tessa must decide if there is more than passion drawing her and Jonah together and if the feelings she has for him can ever be returned by the war-hardened soldier.

So I’ve read a few Jillian Hart romances by now, having never really been all that impressed by them.  I still trudged along though, hoping to find one that was pleasing.  I finally found what I was looking for with Jonah’s Bride!  Jonah and Tessa are adorable together.  When they were children Jonah used to pull on her braids and tease her, much to Tessa’s annoyance.  Obviously, we all know that when a little boy teases a little girl that he really likes her.  Fast forward years later to Jonah’s homecoming.  They are both in their mid to late twenties and the bantering that marked their relationship as children is still ever-present.  This bickering back and forth was actually really adorable to follow, knowing that deep down they both cared for each other.  To watch their love grow and blossom and be reciprocated by the other person was a treat indeed.

Final Thoughts: Read it.

4 out of 5 Stars

Jonah’s Bride by Jillian Hart
Jillian Hart (2011)
eBook: 548 pages
ISBN: 2940013019614

#66 – To Wed A Wicked Earl by Olivia Parker – Summary from Goodreads:

He’s on the hunt for a bride… Adam Faramond, Earl of Rothbury, needs to find a wife—immediately! —or his beloved grandmother will leave him penniless. But Adam, an unrepentant rake, would reform for only one woman, the woman he’s lusted after—and loved—for years. It’s rather unfortunate, then, that Miss Charlotte Greene would never consent to be the blushing bride of a rogue…or so he thinks.

Charlotte believes that the earl, the only man whose touch leaves her trembling, would never want a woman like her. Weary of her wallflower ways, Charlotte decides that a friendship with the earl just might give her the excitement she desires. Keeping their true feelings hidden, she and Adam plan a sham ceremony to placate the dowager. But when the “marriage of convenience” takes an unexpected turn, will Charlotte and her wicked earl finally reveal their irresistible, unforgettable love—and delight in a lifetime of passion?

Charlotte is an absolutely adorable and endearing wallflower.  She is truly kind, compassionate, and wanting of a friendship between herself and Rothbury.  Watching Rothbury try to hide his ever-growing feelings for Charlotte is absolutely precious.  The scenes that have the couple meeting Rothbury’s French grandmother are among my favorite in the book.  She speaks only in French about how Rothbury needs to marry Charlotte and get her pregnant.  Rothbury believes that Charlotte cannot understand French (she really can) and has conversations about her with his grandmother.  It leads to some humorous reactions on Charlotte’s part as she tries to keep a straight face.

Final Thoughts: Of anything reviewed in this post. This is the one you want to read.

4 out of 5 Stars

To Wed A Wicked Earl by Olivia Parker
Harper Collins (2009)
eBook: 384 pages
ISBN: 9780061905315

#67 – Ravished By The Rake (Shipwrecks #1) by Louise Allen – Summary from Goodreads:

Vivacious lady Perdita Brooke prides herself on her social poise …except when faced with devastatingly dashing Alistair Lyndon. The dreamy young man Dita once knew is now a hardened rake, who clearly does not remember their passionate night together…, however much it’s emblazoned on her memory! Now Dita has the perfect opportunity to remind Alistair of their sizzling chemistry. But soon she is in over her head. Provoking him is supposed to be a deliciously wicked game, with her holding all the cards—until Alistair reveals the ace up his sleeve!

Dita is a hellion of a woman and I absolutely love her!  She refuses to believe she can’t do something simply because she’s a woman.  She’s hopelessly in love with Alistair, frequently remembering their time together in her youth.  Alistair on the other hand is completely cynical towards love for reasons you find out late in the book and has no recollection of their time together.  The journey the two take in learning about each other’s pasts as well as how they fit into each other’s futures is an endearing one not without its trials and tribulations.

Final Thoughts: Read it.

3 out of 5 Stars

Ravished By The Rake by Louise Allen
Harlequin (2012)
Paperback: 288 pages
ISBN: 9780373296767

#68 – Seduced By The Scoundrel (Shipwrecks #2) by Louise Allen – Summary from Goodreads:

Shipwrecked and washed up on an island, Averil Heydon is terrified—and being rescued by mysterious roguish naval captain Luc d’Aunay doesn’t calm her fears! Virginal Averil knows that falling for Luc is dangerous, but the pull of their sexual attraction is deliciously irresistible….After her first taste of wild desire in Luc’s arms, Averil must return to society and convention. Except Luc has a shockingly tempting proposition for her—to flaunt duty, and give in to her newly awakened sensuality…

Definitely the best of the three books in the trilogy! Luc and Averil. WHOO. Luc is dangerous, mysterious, and damn sexy.  You could have written a book about him eating soup and I would read it.  What a fascinating character.  His journey for redemption is just amazing.  Averil’s journey to becoming a strong independent woman who can speak her mind is also a plus for this book.

Final Thoughts: DO IT! DO IT! DO IT!

4 out of 5 Stars

Seduced By The Scoundrel by Louise Allen
Harlequin (2012)
Paperback: 288 pages
ISBN: 9780373296804

#69 – Married To A Stranger (Shipwrecks #3) by Louise Allen – Summary from Goodreads:

Sophia Langley’s life is in turmoil. When she learns of her estranged fiancé’s death in a shipwreck, the last thing she expects is for his twin brother, Callum Chatterton, to make a shock proposal.  Her inner romantic objects to a marriage of convenience – and brooding Cal makes it very clear that’s all it can be. Yet to save her family Sophia accepts with trepidation – and a highly inconvenient trembling of desire for her reluctant husband.

I enjoyed the first two books in the Shipwrecks trilogy enough to anticipate the third.  Unfortunately, I was highly disappointed. I honestly never connected with Cal and Sophia, which made it difficult for me to enjoy their story.  The conflicts that threaten their happiness throughout the book never felt big enough to be the cause of such dramatic separations.  The only saving grace of this book was the ability to revisit the characters from the first two books in the trilogy.

Final thoughts: If you’re going to read the first two books in the trilogy then I’d say continue on and read this one.  Otherwise….meh.

2 out of 5 Stars

Married To A Stranger by Louise Allen
Harlequin (2012)
Paperback: 288 pages
ISBN: 9780373296842

So, that wraps up my romance-themed catch up post!  Since this has been so helpful in closing the gap between books read and books reviewed, I’m planning another catch up in the future that will be centered around novellas.  As for now, look forward to regularly scheduled reviews in the days to come and as always, happy reading!

#37 A Review of The Painted Lady by Felicia Rogers

I’ve said many times before that I think it’s important to read outside of your usual reading comfort zone.  In doing so it offers you an opportunity to try out new genres, authors, and subjects.  In keeping with that line of thinking I accepted the opportunity to review The Painted Lady by Felicia Rogers, a contemporary inspirational romance novel.

John Tillman has died from cancer.  His wife feels that his cancer and subsequent death was due to his workplace conditions, yet it will take a hell of a legal battle to fight the large corporation that employed John.  Enter Bruce Malone, the new “it” lawyer at Hampton, Hampton, and Hampton.  Malone agrees to take on Mrs. Tillman’s case, not knowing the extent to which Tillman’s employer has gone in order to cover its tracks.  Once he realizes what he’s up against, he prays for a miracle.  And he gets one too, in the form of Elizabeth Smith, a formerly dowdy secretary that has been transferred into his office.  How will this unlikely hero help Malone win his case?

Before I begin my review I’d like to go on the record and say that I am not a religious person.  Just because I’m not doesn’t mean I begrudge people who are.  I’ve reviewed inspirational books before (see my reviews of The Silent Governess and The Apothecary’s Daughter) and have never had an issue with the religious points of the story.  I want to make clear that I don’t have issue with that in this case either.  My issues with the book are strictly fundamental, and have nothing to do with the religious plot devices.  With that out of the way, on to my review…

For those who have read other reviews on my blog, y’all know that I take issue with weak female heroines.  From the beginning I found Elizabeth to be a weak character, which I just can’t stomach.  Elizabeth currently works as the lead secretary in a law firm.  She herself graduated college and law school and had been a lawyer for a short time before deciding the work and stress wasn’t worth it.  She quit, moved to NYC to live in a townhouse that her aunt bequeathed to her, and started working as a secretary for a law firm.  Now ok, you quit your job because of stress, that is 100% fine.  If you hate your job you hate 50% of your day, and that’s really no way to live.  What I take umbrage with is the fact that in order for her to keep this job she has to dress dowdy and gross, simply because her boss’s wife is jealous.  When she changes her dowdy appearance and dresses like everyone else she if at first fired (and does/says nothing), then eventually reassigned to work for another lawyer.  Now in my head that is 100%  sexual harassment.  She didn’t walk into work in a bra and thong, she went from long flowing skirts (think a hippie) to dressing in professional business attire.  Elizabeth just accepts her fate as “oh well, I shouldn’t have changed my appearance” instead of fighting her boss to make the claim that she was still dressed professionally.  That instance right there was the beginning of an ever-present downfall for me.

Issue #2 was the setting.  Multiple clues lead you to believe that the book takes place in Manhattan, near Central Park.  Multiple references are made of Elizabeth’s townhouse near the edge of the large park that she runs in every morning.  Maybe this is just because I grew up near NYC, but this makes me think of the Upper East/West Side.  Now for those of you who have never been to the UES it’s NOT a bad neighborhood.  The townhouses are beautiful, the view of the park stunning; it’s an overall really good place to live.  Judging from events that happen to Elizabeth, had I never been to NYC and never been to the UES, I’d think she was living in a ghetto where drug dealers walk the streets with guns pointed at everyone at all times.  One particular instance stood out to me.  Elizabeth misses her stop on the bus and realizes she’ll need to get off the bus and retrace her steps back towards her office in order to get home.  She gets off a bus (that has a mom and three children on it) and proceeds to wait for another bus because (and I quote) “At this time of day, no respectable person was on the subway.”  I’m sorry – you just got off a bus with a mom and three children.  How late could it be? Maybe 8pm? I’ve been on the NYC subway by myself after 11pm and have never felt like I was going to be knifed or held at gunpoint.  Elizabeth realizes that her only way to get home is with the subway, gets on it, and gets attacked.  (Oh did I mention this is all after she got attacked by a homeless lady on the street who pulled a knife out and stole her shoes?)  I was left with a really bad taste in my mouth with the way NYC was portrayed.

My final issue had to be with the way Elizabeth’s family was.  She’s in her mid twenties. (This is a guess because it isn’t exactly specified, but judging from the fact that she graduated from law school it’d have to be her mid twenties)  Her parents call her every Sunday at the exact same time, and if she isn’t home they freak out so badly that they literally almost get on a plain to fly up from down south to make sure she’s ok.  When she starts dating Bruce and things begin going crazy at the office she misses a few of these calls.  Her brother calls her telling her that her neighbor has been calling her mom giving her status updates on who has been seeing entering and leaving her house and the amount of time these guests have been staying there.  I’m sorry, you’re in your mid twenties.  It’s time to stand up to mommy and daddy and be a big grown up girl.  Her parents find out about Bruce and her mom FREAKS out.  They have so little faith in her and her stance on her morals that they actually FLY UP FROM DOWN SOUTH randomly showing up on her front steps one day.  They start grilling Bruce about how he’s going to take care of her etc and just interject themselves in her life.  She and Bruce attend the rehearsal dinner for a wedding they’re both in and when they arrive back home, Elizabeth’s mother literally walks to the car and knocks on the window asking if she’s “coming out yet.”  The overbearing parents were the nail in the coffin for me.  I don’t know anyone my age who still allows their parents that much control over their lives.  It just seemed highly unrealistic to me.

Even with all of the above, Rogers weaves a heartwarming story of redemption and saving together.  She finds a way to make the problems of everyone’s lives have a simple solution.  I will give credit where it’s due and say that Rogers’ character’s beliefs are inspiring, and those that enjoy inspirational novels will definitely find solace and comfort in that.

2 out of 5 Stars

The Painted Lady by Felicia Rogers
Astraea Press (2012)
eBook: 283 pages
ISBN:  2940014059268

Special thanks to Astraea Press for my review copy!

#33 A Review of The Replacement Wife by Eileen Goudge

Sometimes when I’m bored I scavenge Barnes and Noble’s website looking for what I call “book oddities”.  What I mean by this are books that completely shock me plot-wise.  These could be off the wall, like Fifty Shades of Grey, or quite depressing like The Replacement Wife.  Every once in a while I feel that I need a book to give me a good cry.  After reading the plot of The Replacement Wife by Eileen Goudge, I felt as if I found a book that fit the bill.

Camille Hart thought she had been through it all.  She endured a rough childhood that included her mother’s death at an early age, inadequate parenting by her vacant father, and later, cancer.  These were all things that she had fought through and came out intact.  So much so that she is the strong pillar of support for her husband Edward and their two children.  She runs a successful matchmaking business in Manhattan, and can finally rest after knowing that the hardest part of her life is behind her.  Only this isn’t the case.  Cancer rears its ugly head once again, and this time the doctors say it’s terminal.  Knowing that her husband will crumble without her there to support the family, Camille makes the hardest decision she’s ever had to make in her life: she decides to find a woman to be her replacement and her husband’s new wife once she is gone.  Methodically attacking the task, Camille sorts through potential matches for her husband, and even invites a woman over for dinner and numerous “dates” that she feels is a great candidate to become her replacement wife.  Edward is completely against the idea, but realizes that if he does not want to spend the rest of his wife’s short life fighting over this, he must agree to compromise and consider accepting this woman.  During one of these so-called compromises, he attends a matchmaking meeting where he meets Angie, a woman he begins to form a steady friendship with unbeknownst to Camille.  What will happen to Camille and Edward’s relationship?

If you don’t want to read spoilers I’d suggest you stop reading now!

I had a TON of issues with this book.  As I stated before, sometimes you need a good cry.  Going into this novel I knew it wasn’t going to be a happy-go-lucky experience.  However, I did not expect to want to bang my head against a wall for most of the reading.  Starting out, I understood why Camille wanted to find someone for her husband to lean on when she passed.  The background and flashbacks you’re given of the first time she went through cancer are signs enough that Edward would need serious help once she passed.  I understood Camille’s wishes and wants, although that was about all I understood about her character.  She tells Edward of her plan and her wishes and he (understandably) is 100% against it.  Edward, being a doctor himself, knows that there is a small chance she could beat the cancer and holds out hope for a clinical trial of some sort.  While I feel for Camille going through cancer I stopped caring about her feelings when she became driven to find Edward a new wife.  It became the only thing on her mind.  Edward tries to convince her to go for new treatment methods and look for clinical trials, but she won’t budge.  All she cares about is making sure her “find” meshes with her family!  I’m sorry but a marriage isn’t over until someone is in the ground or there are irreconcilable differences.

Edward, on the other hand, meets Angie and begins a secret friendship with her – this I kinda got.  He wanted to have something that Camille wasn’t controlling, wasn’t searching for deeper meaning in.  Angie begins falling for Edward and vice versa.  I was really hoping that Edward wouldn’t turn out to be “that guy” who cheats on his wife while she is going through cancer (a la John Edwards), but alas my heart was seriously disappointed.  Is it sick that I understood why he cheated though and didn’t hold it against him a full 100%?  His wife has given up on their marriage, given up on their family, and more importantly given up on fighting to survive.  If I was Edward I’d be pretty damn depressed too, looking for any outlet that bought joy into my life.

Besides all of my issues with the above I COULDN’T STAND THE ENDING. Camille’s doctor winds up finding some clinical trial for her to join that he doesn’t think will really do anything.  It’s more about appeasing Edward at this point.  Guess what – 6 months into her clinical trial HER CANCER DISAPPEARS. COME ON NOW.  YOU’RE SERIOUSLY GOING TO END THIS WAY!?!?!? Yes folks, she survives.  Edward and Camille decide to divorce knowing that Edward loves another woman now and that Camille has thrown away any love that Edward had ever given her.  When I got to the end of the novel I legitimately wanted to fling my nook against the wall.  It honestly felt like a scapegoat of an ending, trying to give everyone what they wanted/needed.

To sum up my thoughts:

– The writing of the novel is great. Strong writing skills, great vocabulary – these kept me going with the story.

– Unique storyline – You can’t fault the author for writing something 100% out of the box.  I tip my hat to Goudge for trying to be different.

– There is not one ounce of anything in me that feels for these characters.  Beyond feeling for Camille going through cancer, I didn’t connect with any of the characters, nor did I feel for them when conflict/misgivings/unhappiness came their way.  They all deserve the messes they got themselves in.

In short, although Goudge’s writing is technically superb and her plot is unique, the character development threw me off base.  This is a purely personal reaction, however, so I suggest that you see for yourself how these characters strike you.  You may just end up having the opposite reaction.  For me, however, this is one I won’t be re-reading anytime soon.

2 out of 5 Stars

This is my ninth completed review for the Around The Stack In How Many Ways Challenge

The Replacement Wife by Eileen Goudge
Open Road Publishing (2012)
eBook: 482 pages
ISBN:  9781453223314

Charlie’s Review of This Haunted World #2 by Mark Powers, Rahmat Handoko, and Chris Lie

From the publisher: In This Haunted World readers see a world awash in conflict and suffering.  Some believe the Biblical End Times have arrived; others believe a civilization too often driven by greed has simply begun the inevitable process of devouring itself.  Amid the fear and chaos walks a shadow.  He is in the war-torn hills of Afghanistan, in the tragedy wracked hills of Hiroshima.  He is called by many names in many places – and where he walks, he brings death.  Two men – one whose ivory tower has been shattered by scandal, the other sprawled on life’s rock bottom – unknowingly hold mankind’s only hope for survival.  For a war unlike any other is about to be declared – one in which 10,000 years worth of sins and pain come back to haunt us…

The second issue of This Haunted World picks up sort of where we left off in issue one.  (My review of issue one is here)  Its main focus is on Daniel and his wealthy “friend” Tom, who obviously have some issues with each other.  In reading a flashback sequence, we learn that they were both part of a study group during their school days which researched “the other side”.  Unfortunately, as happens too often in life, they went their separate ways and grew apart.  They are now embarking on a new journey together which will hopefully bring them back to together.

Besides the continuous character development of Daniel we are also introduced to a new character, Samantha.  She just so happens to be part of the same group as Daniel and Tom.  Things don’t look too bright for her however, as on a normal day at work (she works in a bookstore) disaster hits, which the group initially thinks is a tornado hitting their area.  I however think it is something more supernatural if you get my drift!  She is later hunted down by a CIA agent, who says her presence is being requested by the nation’s capital.

Meanwhile, Daniel and Tom are on their way to Hiroshima to investigate the destruction that took place in the first issue of This Haunted World.  Daniel’s past, particularly his parent’s passing, is why I believe he is so invested in this.  There is continuous destruction going on when they get there, and they aren’t looked too kindly upon by the local military.  Although Daniel and Tom don’t seem to be welcomed, they insist on searching for what they came for.  The action definitely increases as they come under attack from ghosts and creatures from the sky.  Will they escape with their lives?

There are a few other minor things that went down in this issue, but for the most part that is the gist of the main plot/sub plots.  Something big is obviously being set up in this series, as it seems like it is one big massive story that is being slowly revealed.  Unlike the first issue, which I felt was crammed, this issue progressed really slow.  It was way too broad as well as jumbled at the same time.  A lot of what I really enjoyed about the first issue seemed to be missing the second time around.  Additionally, I also felt the illustrations, while drawn well, didn’t catch my eye as much as they did before.  I still hope that in the upcoming issues they try to incorporate sexual themes into the story, but I am not sure if that is on the horizon.  Maybe with the introduction of Samantha we will get something, but who knows?  Like I have said earlier, sex always makes a story better, especially in the horror genre.

All in all, this issue didn’t really give me enough information to be curious about what is going to happen next.  The premise no longer gives me that hook feeling that I once had.  I feel like this graphic novel is struggling with its identity.  Hopefully they find the proper pace in the upcoming issues that allow the reader to get emotionally invested in the characters and story.

2 out of 5 Stars

Special thanks to Sea Lion Books for sending me my review copy!

#21-23 A Review of the Fifty Shades Trilogy by E.L. James

As a book  blogger I think it’s VERY important to stay abreast of books that are causing a ton of buzz in the literary world.  With Twitter and Facebook it’s now easier than ever to spread the word about a book or books that you think are a MUST read.  As I was skimming the web the other day I noticed a ton of people in my Twitter feed talking about a book entitled Fifty Shades of Grey.  I didn’t think much of it, until I read the following NY Times article (Here).  I highly suggest you read that article before continuing on to read my reviews of all three books.  This review WILL have spoilers, so if you are planning on reading the books consider yourself forewarned.  ALSO – this is unlike my other reviews – there will be lots of snarkiness.  At the end of my review I’ve put together, with the help of my friend Tasha who runs the blog Truth, Beauty, Freedom, & Books, the “Fifty Shades Trilogy drinking game” (Note: not to be played by those who can’t control their liquor or are under 21.  We are not responsible for anything that happens to you should you play along.)

So, where to begin? Oh yeah – the plot.  All three books are really one story (where book one ends, book two picks right back up, etc) about the relationship between Edward Cullen and Bella Swan….I mean Christian Grey and  Anastasia Steele.  Yes, this story has MANY similarities to the Twilight series, but more on that later (again, sorry for the length of this review!).

Book one (Fifty Shades of Grey) focuses on the beginning of Christian and Ana’s relationship.  Ana is introduced to Christian when she interviews him for an article that will be in her college’s newspaper.  There are obviously sparks between them, but it isn’t until Christian shows up at Ana’s job a few days later that things start picking up.  A drunken phone call from Ana one evening sparks Christian into action.  He picks her up and brings her back to his hotel room, where he cares for her until the morning.  Nothing happens between them, but Christian tells Ana he can’t stay away from her. “Then don’t,” says Ana (oh hey Twilight…. how ya doing).  Fast forward a bit: Christian takes Ana on a date to his apartment where he proceeds to tell her about his secret sexual lifestyle, domination/masochism.  Ana is completely overwhelmed with this secret, but wants Christian so much that she agrees to try it out for him.  (This is probably a good time to mention that Ana is a virgin.  So really, her agreeing to be submissive to Christian isn’t weird AT ALL.)  A contract is drawn up between the two (you know, the standard contract you sign before you sleep with someone, stating they have full control over you – your clothes, grooming habits, what you eat, etc) and their relationship begins.  It’s difficult for Ana to get used to their relationship and all of Christian’s rules.  Book one ends with Ana leaving Christian after a particularly rough beating.  She makes Christian realize that his lifestyle is extremely messed up, and the fact that he gets off on causing her pain isn’t right.

Book two (New Moon… I mean Fifty Shades Darker) begins with newly broken up Ana and Christian.  They’re both seriously lost and depressed without each other.  When they get together to attend an art show Christian tells Ana that he has a new proposal for her.  He needs her in his life and is willing to try a normal relationship with her if she’ll learn to trust him and help him deal with his own issues.  She agrees and the two begin anew.  They begin a whirlwind romance that is a hybrid of their two lives.  Christian begins taking her on dates and loving her, while Ana attempts to take small steps at “fixing” Christian and understanding his sexual preferences.  Fifty Shades Darker also takes on a plot similar to Eclipse.  Ana begins working at a small publishing house that Christian winds up buying.  Christian fires Ana’s boss when he finds out that he is sexually harassing her.   Ana’s boss begins a vendetta against Christian that continues into book three, Fifty Shades Freed.  The main plot piece to take away from Fifty Shades Darker is that Christian is trying to face the demons of his past with Ana’s help.

Fifty Shades Freed finds Ana and Christian on their honeymoon.  This is probably a good time to mention that Christian and Ana got married after being together for about 2 months. I know, I know – why am I surprised?  Isn’t this a common love story?  Girl finds WAY messed up boy, girl falls in love with boy, boy can’t love girl because of his past, girl loves boy anyway, boy beats girl, girl and boy have lots of sex, boy begins looking at his past, girl still loves boy, boy begins telling girl he loves her, girl and boy get married, boy and girl live happily ever after. Blah blah blah – sex scenes – blah blah – throw in some Breaking Dawn unwanted/surprise pregnancy plot points, a happy ending, and you have the Fifty Shades Trilogy!

I’m not even sure where I should begin my discussion of the trilogy.  (Serious thoughts first)  I’ve lately learned that these novels started out as Twilight fan-fiction.  This I think is where my problem begins.  When I first read the Twilight novels I really enjoyed them.  Did I think Bella was a really wimpy heroine? Yes.  Did I think that Edward was a creepy stalker?  Yes.  But something about the story just….worked.  It’s now been 3 to 4 years since I’ve read the series and honestly I don’t think I could do it again.  I look back and think, Bella is the WORST role model for girls.  She becomes addicted to Edward and unable to live without him, as evidenced in New Moon.  The Fifty Shades trilogy elicits the same kinds of problems.  Ana has NEVER been in a relationship pre-Christian, and Christian has never been in a dominant/submissive “entanglement” before.  She finds herself attracted to him and is thrust into this world of messed up shit because she wants his approval and his love.  I’m sorry but being terrified of your significant other is not a good sign of your relationship.  Yes, Christian has serious issues, but who doesn’t?  His character is honestly the only believable thing in the entire series.  He has good reason for being the way he is and treating those around him the way he does.  He needs someone kind and compassionate like Ana, but at what cost?  Ana literally fears being beaten by him.  His temper and his sexual preferences become so intertwined that Ana cannot tell when he’s turned on or angry.  There is literally a line in one of the books where Christian tells her, “I wanted to beat the shit out of you.”  Ah…true love.  Man I wish someone would say those words to me.  I guess this is the crux of what my biggest problem with the series is.  The entire relationship is 1,000% unhealthy.  The first two and a half books have Ana and Christian deal with every problem by just having sex. (I’m not kidding. It’s like every sixth page they are having sex.)  I’m not shy with books that have sex in them, but this was just freaky.  Direct quote from the book, “you should see what I can do with a cane or a cat.” A CAT?! WHAT THE HELL DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?!  Shit is cray cray.

Ok take the sex out of it, there were still 1,000 other weird things about the book.  Ana’s Spanish friend Jose – randomly popping in and out of the story blurting out Spanish phrases.  The weird expressions that are used – I know the author is British, so some of the expressions are expected to be a bit out-of-place, but they really just threw me off sometimes.

I really really really wanted to root for Ana and Christian, especially after you find out his whole back story, but part of me couldn’t condone the relationship with Ana being frightened of him a good percent of the time.  I’m not really sure how you go from being scared the guy is going to beat you to suddenly agreeing to marrying him.  BIZZARO.  Or maybe I’m the bizarre person here?  Maybe I’m the freak who doesn’t think stalking is hot?  AHHH.  This series elicited strong reactions from me, more so than anything I’ve read recently.  Sure there were some really great parts (Christian’s secret planning of Ana’s birthday party, the care he gives her after her accident, etc) of the trilogy, but unfortunately not enough to outweigh all the weird shit that was going on for me to give them great reviews.  I will 100% admit though that something drew me to them.  Will I ever re-read these novels?  Probably somewhere down the line because honestly they made me laugh SO MUCH.  Although I may have laughed a lot more due to the Twitter conversations Tasha and I had over the course of my reading the three books…..  However, there is no denying that they are a guilt pleasure for sure.

Regardless of everything I’ve said above – if you read these books know that there is some freaky shit going on and prepare yourself for it.  You may like them, you may hate them, but you WILL have an opinion when you finish.  I can 100% guarantee it.

Now, without further ado: The Fifty Shades of Grey Drinking Game!!  Here are the rules!  You must drink when the following occurs:

  • Every time Christian stalks Ana
  • Every time Jose says something in Spanish for no reason
  • Every time someone bites their lip
  • Every time there is sex
  • Every time Ana’s subconscious does backflips or is mentioned
  • Every time Ana calls Christian “Mr. Grey” or “Fifty”
  • Every time Ana doesn’t realized another man is attracted to her
  • Every time there is a Twilight similarity
  • Every time it seems weird Ana doesn’t know how to use basic technology
  • Every time Ana rolls her eyes and Christian wants to punish her for it
  • Every time Christian nitpicks Ana for not eating
  • Every time Christian says “What are you doing to me?’
  • Every time Ana thinks about leaving Christian
  • Every time “SHOUTY” capitals are used
  • Every time the phrase “laters baby” is used
  • Every time there are “sparks” in an elevator
  • Every time the unborn baby is called “Blip”
  • Every time Christian is totally overprotective
  • Every time “Mrs. Robinson” is mentioned
  • Every time  Ana says “Holy ____”
  • Every time the word “more” is used
  • Every time Ana says “crap” or “double crap”

If anyone out there has read/decides to read the trilogy I would LOVE to hear your thoughts.  Tasha’s review is here and is much funnier than mine!  Whether you opt out of reading this trilogy or not, read Tiffany Reisz’s The Siren instead. (Here’s my review)  It showcases what a true BDSM lifestyle is like when both partners are willing and trusting.  (It also doesn’t hurt that the book is written 1,000 times better than Fifty)

Trilogy Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars

This is my seventh completed review for the Around The Stack In How Many Ways Challenge

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
Knopf Doubleday (2011)
eBook: 384 pages
ISBN: 9781612130293

Fifty Shades Darker by E.L. James
Knopf Doubleday (2011)
eBook: 394 pages
ISBN: 9781612130590

Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James
Knopf Doubleday (2012)
eBook: 451 pages
ISBN: 9781612130613