A Kingdom of Dreams by Judith McNaught

A Kingdom of Dreams (Westmoreland, #1)

A Kingdom of Dreams by Judith McNaught

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A well written archetypal historical romance.

While 14-16 y.o. me would’ve loved this, given it 5 stars, and squealed in delight while re-reading favorite parts multiple times, there’s a part of me that is apparently a bit too old and cynic for this.
The younger me loved that the heroine was actually clever, resourceful, resorting to unusual choices, and not simply blindly stubborn and arrogant; loved the conversations between main characters (even though there were 1-2 dialogs my fingers just itched to re-write); loved that many of the characters actually used their heads and altered their opinions. Also the hero… Big, strong, fearsome and fearless “Black Wolf” on a big black horse? He is practically the model (template) hero for the majority of these romance novels (the ones that don’t deal with the ‘fair-haired and beautiful noble hero’ type). It feels like I’ve seen a few dozen of his twins before. Even if it works…
(Though I do suppose an allowance should be made for the fact that this book was published in 1989 and I’m influenced by the books that came after.)
The older me narrows her eyes at how young the main character is (I know it’s historically accurate, I can’t help it), and at the fact that this book suffers from the ‘I got addicted to the angst and added some more…and more…and more again’-syndrome. I’m not convinced that the final family-related angst sequence was entirely necessary. As wasn’t the mini-angst detail of the Epilogue. Some of the plot turns, especially the ones that sacrifices positive characters, felt excessive.

Overall, I think this is definitely one of the better examples of ‘romance with actual plot’ variety, but I also think that it would be mostly appealing to younger readers.

(Unrelated to the content of the book, I happened to get the edition with rather terrible printing. The problems ranged from about twenty extra pages getting stuck in a wrong place in the book, to constantly missing punctuation marks… Even for a 30 y.o. edition, it’s a bit too much.)

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Mr. Perfect by Linda Howard

Mr. Perfect

Mr. Perfect by Linda Howard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

50% ‘Criminal Minds’-style thriller, 50% insta-romance explosion

This is a skillfully-written story, with some subtle twists that keep you guessing, and enough humor and romance to keep you distracted from the gruesome reality of the thriller portion. Other that the clear introduction to the where this is going to go in the Prologue, the story actually starts pretty slow, taking plenty of time to introduce all the characters and relationships. To be honest, I have my doubts about believability of the main concept—the one where the list becomes the nation-wide news feature and where so many people feel offended by it—but I know close to nothing about US society so I can’t really judge. The romance may feel a bit too fluffy and instantaneous, but then again, isn’t that the dream. I did also appreciate the fact that the culprit wasn’t a generic ‘his mother treated him bad so he grew up a woman-hating psychopath’ kind of deal, but then again, the twist I imagined in my head for the later part of the book might have been a little twistier that the actual one, which led to me feeling that this was after all a 4-star read, rather that a 5-star.

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Pride Mates by Jennifer Ashley

Pride Mates (Shifters Unbound, #1)

Pride Mates by Jennifer Ashley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To be honest, I first, after reading the description, was actually planning to avoid these series… The whole ‘Shifters are Collared and controlled, outcast from humanity’ concept doesn’t appeal to me at all. Not that I’d have hard time imagining humans being discriminating asses trying to degrade, insult, and control others on every step, but just because I don’t really like to be reminded of these disgusting human traits. I only picked this up because I have read Bodyguard by chance first and thought maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all.
It’s not a bad story. The plot is there, not dissolved behind the romance, and the characters are interesting and mostly well-developed. And yet, too much of this book talks about these issues of control, power over others, dominance and submission… even if the main character says she is not ‘into it’, everything in this book rotates around these concepts. Which honestly kind of puts me off.
Also, the insta-love and thick-headed main female character did seem clichéd, even if not enough to be annoying.

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Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews

Magic Burns (Kate Daniels, #2)

Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

On one hand, I can’t help but feel that these novels (especially this one) are too short, on the other hand, they are so packed with non-stop action that I also believe if it was any longer I would actually get tired reading it. The main character hardly has any any time to rest, she spends more time passed out after almost dying again than sleeping, she hardly eats, she goes from one deadly battle to another, ‘almost dies’ multiple times, and the whole book hardly covers more than a couple of days.
I enjoyed this book more mostly because there weren’t really any unreasonable blunders like in the first one, but I do think I would enjoy it even more if there was more ‘room to breathe’ between all the action.

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Dragon Actually by G.A. Aiken

Dragon Actually

Dragon Actually by G.A. Aiken

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fun, unexpected, and explicit in more ways than one.

The way this book started, I thought I’d give it 5 stars. The tone, the humor, the characters and interactions, everything seemed great. Even thought this book is plenty bloody and violent. Unfortunately, later on the ‘rapid POV switching’ style, while fresh and enjoyable in the beginning, seemed to turn the story a progression bit too abrupt. Puff! Enemies are about to attack this specific village. Puff! We’re in the middle of the battle. Puff! It’s all over. Puff! A year has passed. (And I do feel like making it a year was neither realistic nor reasonable).
It also progressively turned a bit too porny, and when we reached “Chains & Flames” also too S&M-y for my tastes. It’s probably because, once again, I thought I was getting a ‘fantasy novel featuring some romance’, while it actually picking up ‘erotica in fantasy setting’. While it still could be the former if it tried just a little bit harder, it definitely is much more closer to the latter.

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Notorious Pleasures by Elizabeth Hoyt

Notorious Pleasures (Maiden Lane, #2)

Notorious Pleasures by Elizabeth Hoyt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Why do so many of ‘second novels’ in so many series turn into these pits of angst, I wonder?
I found this book much more difficult to enjoy than the first one. I think there were three major reasons. Firstly, is that while I can get behind a tortured anti-social hero who is hunting a murderer, I find it much more difficult to get behind a tortured hero who runs illegal gin still and sleeps with people’s wives in public places. Even though Reading is perhaps a more pleasant person personality-wise. Secondly, this novel takes a very specific and very obvious format. The one where you know with 100% certainty how the story will go from the very first chapters: everything starts from a low and angsty point, then it will become gradually worse and angstier, until it reaches the climax where something terrible happens and forces people to take their heads out of their asses, so that the happy end you expected from the very beginning is brought about. And you know all the major story points that are going to happen before they do. It’s hard to remain interested and not just skip to the end and save yourself from suffering through all the angst and misfortunes. And thirdly, the fact that the main theme of this novel seems to be infidelity. Whether it’s sleeping with other people wives or fiancés, or falling in love with someone else while being engaged, or telling your lover that you can’t marry them and will marry someone else and have an affair with them after a year or so… I don’t like this topic and don’t find it exciting.
Additionally, I also felt like Lady Hero turned out to be a much weaker character here than she appeared to be in the first book, which was rather disappointing.

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One Fell Sweep by Ilona Andrews

One Fell Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles, #3)

One Fell Sweep by Ilona Andrews

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m still a little sad that this series has traded a big portion of humor for angst, but I did enjoy this book much more than the second one. I think we could do with fewer ‘almost deaths’ per novel. But the Hiru story was very good.
It’s too bad that it looks like it’s going to be a while before we get any continuation with the story with Dina, if ever.

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