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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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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A Werewolf in Manhattan by Vicki Lewis Thompson

A Werewolf in Manhattan (Wild About You, #1)

A Werewolf in Manhattan by Vicki Lewis Thompson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What can be more self-indulgent than a werewolf romance writer writing about a werewolf romance writer getting it on with a (hot, rich, super smart, practically a prince) werewolf?
Normally, I have a giant soft spot for self-indulgent novels.
I can even live (though not for long) with the whole ‘(reluctant) cinderella’ concept (as old and stupid as it is), where a woman suddenly needs to be introduced to all the riches and luxuries by some kind of protective prince charming, but she’s also going to bitch about it on every step. And with the overly-fantastical romance scenes. They do give me a toothache, but I can live with them as long as the book doesn’t take itself too seriously and there’s enough humor to cover it up.
So normally I would’ve given this kind of book a higher rating, if there wasn’t one substantial problem… of the main character turning from ‘egoistically stubborn’ to ‘utterly idiotic’ towards the end of the book. The whole ‘Werewolves are very much against being discovered by public. But I’m a writer so I’m going to remember every detail about their lives and write about it’ and ‘Now that I saw the real thing I will only want to write exactly how it is and you can’t censor me!’ <- is one of the stupidest ideas I’ve ever read. She’s a fantasy romance writer for fluff’s sake, not a documentary journalist. The ‘I will write the reality and present is as fiction’ attitude is no better than plagiarism, it’s like saying ‘I don’t want to use my imagination anymore if I can just observe and describe you and then tell people I made it up’ and as a representation of a fantasy writer is frankly nothing but insulting. And then there’s also ‘oh, they took my laptop so I’m going to snoop around people’s private offices until I find it because I’m the most important one here!’ Seriously though, I know how it is to be hysterically protective of your writing laptop, but unless there was a valid possibility that people were going to go through it or destroy it before they could be stopped (which was not the case in the book), there’s no way any human being with a brain would’ve handled the situation the way the main character did.
Nothing turns me off and away from a book as characters who make me scream ‘why in hell do you need to be so stupid??!!’ in my head…
Also, on my quest of combing through all sorts of ‘comfort literature’, I’m getting increasingly sick and tired of the representation of heroines that makes you pity the heroes for having to put up with all the selfishness and blindness to everything but themselves…

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A Strange Hymn by Laura Thalassa

A Strange Hymn (The Bargainer, #2)

A Strange Hymn by Laura Thalassa

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book 2, and my verdict remains mostly the same.
The world is interesting and well-developed, the hero is all what you’d want from a comfort book, plenty of elements that speak of a book made for mental self-satisfaction (dream-like landscapes, too-convenient magic, overprotective mate, etc), but the problem is that we are forced to experience it through the prism of a just barely tolerable heroine.
On first pages I almost believed that together with the wings and scales the heroine might finally start growing some brains. As in, being in the place where her manipulative powers don’t work, and after suffering through a pretty terrible ordeal, I hoped it would shake some sense into her.
Alas, the main character and her manner remains the single most annoying feature of this book, which is hard to ignore when the book is in the 1st-person pov. And still inspires a lot of pity towards the Bargainer who saddled himself with her.
She still refuses to be pulled down from her high horse, bristling on everything and everyone. She still calls the ‘love of her life’ bastards, asshole, creep; they are having a ‘romantic moment’ and she calls him ‘slippery f**ker’ in her head, and finds a reason to be angry and hateful towards him at least 3 times every chapter. Even when essentially every thing he does is for her.
She bitches at him when he tries to make her like her new appearance, she bitches at him when he teaches her to use her wings and fly, she bitches when he wakes her up with coffee in bed and makes her breakfast, she bitches when he tries to teach her to defend herself so she wouldn’t feel like a victim anymore (something she should have been begging him to do, and jump at every opportunity… and don’t even get me started on the shockingly naive and simplistic essence of the said ‘training’ where they just take swords and swing at each other), she finds a reason to bitch at every second word he says to her (or do little mean things like cover his painting with black paint because she’s a little shit who doesn’t care about anything but her darling self). She bitches, and bitches, and bitches non-stop about almost everything, and it makes reading this book unfortunately tiring, where it could have actually been pleasant.
Another issue is the writing that tends to go okay-bad-okay-bad again sometimes 3-4 times on a single page. It is also mostly tied to the manner in which the main character expresses herself, ranging from ‘I might hate the process, but I kind of dig the results. I also am coming to love the sweet pair of blades strapped to my hips. … I feel like a bad bitch tonight, which I totally dig.’ to her dialogs with her best friend which mostly made me want to wash their mouths with a toilet brush.
She sounds immature, uncultured, and often disgusting.
I’m not saying she should be a gentle damsel in distress. But some respect, culture, and dignity would be nice.
…. But then, about a dozen or so of chapters before the end, something suddenly changes, and the book snaps 90 degrees: the presence of super-powerful constantly-swearing best friend almost gets forgotten, while the main character suddenly actually begins to act selfless and uncharacteristically brave. Which would be a welcome change, if the whole story also didn’t suddenly change into a constant anxiety dump, with enemies hiding at every corner and main characters remaining completely blind to them even though everything that is about to happen is a bit too clear to the reader (which, again, is a difficult dissonance to wrap your head about when you read from a 1st-person pov, but see and understand more than the said protagonists deigns to).
This book is made up from two very different parts. Unfortunately, both of them have some elements I dislike quite a lot, also entirely different. But I also still like enough about this story to continue reading anyway… The question is how much angst will we have to deal with in book 3, and will I feel like it is worth it or not.

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Wicked Intentions by Elizabeth Hoyt

Wicked Intentions (Maiden Lane, #1)

Wicked Intentions by Elizabeth Hoyt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I first started reading this, I was genuinely impressed.
And my impression was that I have picked up a well-written ‘hunting Jack the Ripper’ type novel sprinkled with some romance as a bonus.
When the balance of “Georgian era mystery/porny content” shifted from 70/30 that I imagined it would be, to about 20/80, I felt genuine disappointment.
Still, I think this is a very well-written book. The writing and world-building are extensive, detailed, and both real and imaginative. The writing is very very solid. I just could do without a few of the bedroom scenes. Especially the ‘I will heal you with my touch’ kind.
As someone who actually found herself empathizing with the character of Caire because of some shared characteristics, the turn of ‘he felt the pain because he wasn’t loved and it will be all healed by love’ turn felt disappointing.
I’m interested in continuing to read these series, at least for a while, but I feel like I’ll have to do so fighting against the disgust towards covers and titles… I feel like these novels were done a big disservice with these choices.

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Chasing Earth: Saving Askara Part II by J.M. Link

Chasing Earth: Saving Askara Part II (Tori & Aderus #2)

Chasing Earth: Saving Askara Part II by J.M. Link

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

(This review is for both first books combined.)
I’m in that place of mind where I grab a book that says ‘sci-fi romance’ on the cover myself, and then promptly get genuinely surprised why the characters won’t stop thinking about sex.
This book has a multitude of interesting sci-fi premises, which tease the imagination and made me think that I would like this book more if any of them were actually addressed… but the characters have a lot of difficulty to find time to indulge in such things as providing more detailed worldbuilding, whether regarding the Earth history and why are they suddenly so friendly towards another race that they appear willing to fight their battles, or Askara, their ship, their war, multitude of briefly introduced side characters, any actual relationships between them, how their group operates, and so on… because they are too busy with all the angry sex. (At least the author stopped using the P word for the lady parts after the first time, it was a giant relief. Also made me glad that the hero wasn’t human and we avoided cringy language choices in that respect.)
The main character is entirely too unconvincing in her setting. She is supposed to be a medical professional, and enough of a professional to be the one sent into the midst of things when humans supposedly make their very first contact with extraterrestrials. Which kind of calls for an expectation that she must be a highly skilled, reputed, and respected medical professional. Instead, she gawks, gets injured, is too embarrassed to properly talk about reproductive system, rushes head first into unprotected sex with aliens without thinking about any kind of consequences, and doesn’t really do anything medicine related for 80% of the story but ‘go on rounds’ with the alien medical professional which are never shown in detail, and are only mentioned as a background setting for characters to think about sex or actively try to not think about sex.
I have a strong nagging I should be feeling like an idiot for trying to take these books too seriously. I was trying to read it as a sci-fi, when it probably was written mostly as a PWP (the ‘plot what plot’ variety).

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Laird of the Mist by Paula Quinn

Laird of the Mist (MacGregors, #1)

Laird of the Mist by Paula Quinn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Would be a good comfort book of romance variety if it wasn’t for rather unfortunate quality of writing, at times bordering on cringy, and undeveloped/missed story opportunities that stand out like thorns. Also, very unfortunate cover design that is likely scare people off. If you can ignore the writing and cover problems, then you might discover some interesting side characters and a heroine who seems to know what she wants and listens to people around her for a change. I think the main thing about this book is that it avoids a lot of angst by featuring people who are actually willing to think for themselves and change their mind about things, without remaining stubbornly blind for too long.

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