Thursday, May 31, 2007

My TO-BUY list so far

On my To-Buy list for my book shelf so far:

The Raven Prince, by Elizabeth Hoyt

By Possession, by Madeline Hunter
The Rules of Seduction, by Madeline Hunter

The Warrior, by Nicole Jordan

Come the Morning, by Shannon Drake [3]

***/***** (3/5)

I decided to check out an older novel published in 1999, Shannon Drake's COME THE MORNING. I enjoy gripping plotting, history and political intrigue with the romance, and I thought COME THE MORNING fit the bill. Not so much though, the tempestuous romance in the first part was fun, and there's some intrigue but nothing substantive. COME THE MORNING doesn't do a good job with settings either. Drake has a tendency to veer off into some historical discourse for pages on end which doesn't seem relevant to the story at all, and unfortunately, she does it often. She doesn't really make the historical backdrop mesh with her story and romance all that well and often times, we find belabored essays on various histories or genealogies. Having strong Scottish roots herself, author Shannon Drake's love for Scotland is evident. The light-hearted romance is fun though, and unlike other books I've read, COME THE MORNING heroine's scathing, belligerent attitude towards our hero was actually enjoyable.

The Story.

Heroine Mellyora MacAdin, Lady of the beatific and verdant Blue Isle, has just lost her laird father to death. King David of Scotland summons her and his champion Laird Waryk de Graham to Stirling for plans of his own during a tumultuous time when Scotland's borders are in conflict from England down south and the Vikings to the north. Unbeknown to either Mellyora or Waryk, King David plans to arrange their marriage to solidify Blue Isle during a time of conflict. Mellyora seethes and resents giving her home to a complete stranger and attempts numerous escapes only to have Waryk capture her time and time again.

The story with Mellyora & Waryk's rather tempestuous encounters is rather fun. There's some intrigue and fighting in the second half.

The light-hearted story isn't bad at all. I may check out some other books by Shannon Drake in the future.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Ask For It, by Sylvia Day [2]

**/***** (2/5)

Sylvia Day's ASK FOR IT probably qualifies as erotica, and as far as that goes, that's a first for me. This book is heavy on the explicit language and erotica, so beware. Despite the explicit nature of this book, ASK FOR IT still imparts a heated passion and a loving romance. The plotting, however, is poor, the settings worse, both essentially serving as annoying background noise to the passionate scenes. I felt like I was reading an equivalent of a late-night B-grade showtime movie. The only reason I give this book 2 stars is because I thought the characterizations were more mature than I've been reading lately, and it was nice to see demons haunting our heroine for a change (though it wasn't handled well).

Our tall, dark and handsome Lord Marcus Ashford, Earl of Westfield, works for the Agency and is assigned to protect widowed Elizabeth, Lady Hawthorne, in a deadly case which places her life in peril; the details of the case aren't worth noting, only that her life is in danger. Marcus takes the case eagerly, intent on sating his lust of the stubborn woman who jilted him four year ago. Years ago, Elizabeth abruptly ends her betrothal to Marcus the night before their wedding after errantly drawing the wrong conclusions about Marcus' fidelity, or lack thereof. Marcus wasn't cheating on her though and Elizabeth doesn't give Marcus a chance to explain when she marries another man right away. Marcus leaves the country and they don't speak again until the case which has Marcus assigned to her.

While being assigned to protect Elizabeth, Marcus doggedly pursues a love affair with Elizabeth, just to be rid of his lust of her. Both confide and talk to each other about the events which led to the jilt those years ago, which was refreshing to read about. Elizabeth has major trust issues after witnessing the digressions of her father and brother first-hand, and resists Marcus, believing he will tire of her and return to debauchery. She desperately tries to escape Marcus' advances during the case and finally flees London at one point. Marcus gives chase, proposing marriage and asking her a week's time to consider his proposal, promising not to touch and seduce her unless she asks for it. Sure enough, by the week's end, Elizabeth asks for it, they marry, and more passionate scenes abound.

I liked Marcus's characterization in the beginning, but by the end I thought Day turned him into an over-the-top, pining, love-sick lapdog, and he lost a lot of the masculine flavor which made him interesting from the beginning. I understand the need to show love from the hero in an otherwise meaningless erotica and to "tame" the hero, but I didn't feel Marcus' intense desire and love was even remotely reciprocated by Elizabeth. I didn't think Elizabeth's unwarranted jilt four years ago was really settled between our leading pair. I didn't like how Elizabeth makes all the uncompromising demands on Marcus and Marcus happily assents to all of them by the end: she asks him to leave the dangerous Agency, he obliges; she asks him to verbalize the words "I love you" despite a prior chapter in which he spent 2 pages articulating - heartfelt and soulfully - just want Elizabeth means to him and everything he does anyway that shows it; and then Elizabeth demands to know if he could love her even though she could be barren, Marcus doesn't hesitate, he tells her he loves her so much nothing could change that. When Marcus suspects Elizabeth is cheating on him, Elizabeth cruelly allows Marcus to believe the worst, testing his obvious love over and over, again and again. Even though it was Elizabeth who jilted him years ago!

I thought the character of the pirate Christopher St. John was too smooth, too convenient when he saves both Marcus and Elizabeth at the end. Marcus is too love-sick to do anything on his own right. The plotting has our leading pair constantly reacting to events and neither make a concerted effort to dig deeper and discover who is behind the attempts on Elizabeth's life.

Heated, flaring passions cannot save this weak fare.

Unveiled, by Kristina Cook [3]

***/***** (3/5)

In Kristina Cook's UNVEILED, demons haunt both our hero and heroine, which is a slight deviation from the heroine-helps-hero-overcome-his-inner-demons-and-his-past storyline. Although there's that here too.

The book is more about the message than the plotting to get there; the message being: you must take a risk and overcome your fears to be truly happy.

The beautiful Miss Jane Rosemoor, 25-26, has rejected many offers of marriage because she believes that having children will make her go insane due to a mental illness which runs in the family. Meanwhile, our tall, dark and handsome (not to mention rich) Lord Hayden Moreland, Earl of Westfield, believes he's a curse to the women he loves in his life, having lost his mother, his sister and his fiance. Still, he seeks a wife for a motherly presence for his young niece.

After an initial meeting, Hayden is intrigued by Jane, while Jane finds Hayden a "bloody arrogant fool." Following Hayden's rather insulting marriage proposal more driven by calculation than by heart, the book meanders into a series of encounters between the leading pair under the context of parties, soires, balls, and theater events.

The ending lives up to the romance genre satisfactorily, concluding on a very fun, mushy note. Nothing especially extraordinary here, but not bad either, and contains the right touches of a light, but fun, romance.

Friday, May 25, 2007

A Perfect Groom, by Samantha James [1]

*/***** (1/5)

I really don't why I bother with these, I really don't.

Samantha James' A PERFECT GROOM reads as an immature, contemporary teenie bopper romance, replete with the bets, dances, handsome rogues, ordinary-looking heroines, tempestuous "romance"/relationships, and cliche "plotting" (if you can call it a veritable plot) we're so familiar with. I love how romance authors like to downplay the appearance of their heroines yet make their heroes the "handsomest", tallest, broad-shouldered rogues ever. I think I counted the word "handsomest" used to describe our hero Justin Sterling at least 10 times. Seriously. Not surprisingly, looks don't mean much to our experienced, handsomest rogue in all of England and he pines over our heroine Arabella's feisty "wit." Please, we can use many adjectives to describe Arabella Templeton's behavior, least of all witty. Immature dithering, repetitive and insipid introspection, constant pining over Justin's handsomest appearance, juvenile fits of anger, maybe. Witty? I don't think so.

The author didn't spend much time thinking through the characterizations in A PERFECT GROOM. Around Justin Sterling, the only thing Arabella notices is his handsomest good looks, and tall, imposing size and yet she says she would like more than good looks in an ideal husband. When it's blatantly obvious that Arabella's attraction to Justin rests with Justin's handsomest good looks? Hypocritical much, Arabella? She disparages men who're after beautiful girls, yet she consistently fawns over Justin's "handsomeness", and Justin's only distinction lies with his appearance. Adolescent beyond belief, no serious mature characterization here.

Arabella's vanity and hypocrisy knows no bounds. Despite having a rather ordinary, gangly appearance herself, Arabella actually claims she doesn't want to be the center of attention. Yet, all of Arabella's conversations with her friend Georginia are centered around Arabella's rejections of so many proposals; in essence, centered around Arabella. When Arabella refuses her 4th proposal from a relatively decent and smitten man (Walter), she's more worried about what the ton will say than any real compassion for the man she scoffed. She wants to believe she considers the man's feelings when she rejects his suit, but obviously not, since after rejecting Walter, she's more distressed about gossip related to her 4th rejection exacerbating her reputation from her point of view. She can't choose anyone shorter than her, well, because, that would just be unbecoming. Appearance and vanity clearly DOMINATE Arabella's thoughts, yet she expects her ideal husband to be above of such vain thoughts in his wife. Uhuh, her characterization makes me physically ill, and the author actually lets her get away with it the entire novel.

Justin's demons and wounded past didn't ring true in the least. It's the same 'ole, same 'ole bad childhood boo-hoo-hoo, get over it Justin, man!

The Story.

Justin Sterling returns to London after being on the Continent for his travels and he's greeted at White's by gentlemen wagering to deflower the Toast of the Season, the Unattainable. The Unattainable has already refused 3 suits and promises to break even more hearts. After 5 men enter a wager in which the first to claim the Unattainable's virtue wins the bet, Justin and his friend enter a private wager of their own, doubling the stakes. Only there's a time limit, and Justin must claim the Unattainable's virtue before the other men. Intrigued, oblivious to the identity of the Unattainable and a reputed cad/libertine, Justin agrees and enters the private wager.

When Justin discovers the identity of the Unattainable, he's reminded of the fiery girl who sticks a needle in his shoe and punches him years ago after witnessing his rakehell ways. Our red-haired, freckled heroine hasn't changed much over the years, she's described as someone who says and does what she feels regardless of etiquette. Not a beauty by any stretch of the imagination, our hero Justin immediately finds himself taken by Arabella's so-called "wit" and combative nature.

Imbecile meetings between our lead pair and adolescent introspections ensue, having little point and less entertainment value as Justin implants himself in front of Arabella whether she wants it or not.

To the book's credit, the ending wasn't as beleaguered and prolonged as I'd expect from juvenile, hackneyed stories such as these. Predictably, Arabella discovers of the private wager and after some time, comes to forgive him having fully reformed Justin's rakehell status.

Nothing here, moving on...

Thursday, May 24, 2007

By Design, by Madeline Hunter [3]

***/***** (3/5)

Not a particularly bad novel, and like BY POSSESSION, BY DESIGN contains the requisite Madeline-Hunter elements: a relationship characterized by a stormy, yet witty beginning, flaring passion, emotional angst and finally, an unattainable, impossible happily-ever-after. This is my third Madeline Hunter novel, after THE RULES OF SEDUCTION and BY POSSESSION.

If you've read BY POSSESSION like myself, there's too much of a feeling of deja vu to ascribe this book its proper due, and it appeared too many things were recycled from BY POSSESSION. There's the impossible love between two people of different statuses (reverse the genders), there's the hero protecting and abstaining from his desires until the heroine consents, and even the love scenes seemed similar to BY POSSESSION, with the obligatory heroine-strips-in-front-of-hero scene. BY DESIGN contains solid plotting and characterizations, but for me, it could not escape comparison with BY POSSESSION. I was happy to see BY POSSESSION's Addis & Moira quite a bit in BY DESIGN, but their presence also drew constant comparisons. In short, I enjoyed BY POSSESSION's romance, characters and plotting more than BY DESIGN.

BY DESIGN's plotting isn't bad; the settings, though nothing special, were adequate; and the romance, albeit wrenching, didn't resonate as much as the other two novels I've read by Madeline Hunter. Rhys & Joan, though well-conceived and poignant characterizations, paled in comparison to BY POSSESSION's Moira & Addis.

In general, I thought the connection between our leading pair was too abstract. I did appreciate a look into the skilled workers and craftsmen of the medieval era. However, BY DESIGN attempts to "join" Joan & Rhys' souls via their craft, having their souls connect from a crafting "by design." I found the entire notion too abstract, and as much as I appreciate Hunter's liberal use of analogies and metaphors to describe something deeper, I thought this particular connection infringed in on the realm of Unable-Suspend-Disbelief.

The Story, possible SPOILERS.

Readers from BY POSSESSION will recognize BY DESIGN's hero Rhys Mason, the skillful and affluent stonemason who courts Moira for a short while. In BY POSSESSION, Rhys helped bring about a rebellion which leads to weak king's abdication of the throne (Edward II), and firmly thrusts a Queen and her lover, the ruthless and ambitious Roger Mortimer, in power. The story is very much based on historical facts, and obviously Hunter takes some liberties with those historical facts to tell her story. In BY DESIGN, the people of England grow weary and tired of Mortimer's pseudo-monarchy and ambition, and plots surface of a conspiracy to remove Mortimer from power and help the rightful heir -- Edward III - seize the throne. BY POSSESSION's Addis finds himself in the middle of these conspiracy plots in BY DESIGN.

Rhys meets Joan Tiler in a market selling her crockery and is immediately drawn to Joan, immediately discerning a beauty and class in Joan beyond his own ken, beyond his own status. After Rhys buys out Joan's indenture and takes in Joan and her brother into his house, the tumultuous and fitful relationship between Joan & Rhys takes off. Similar to other Madeline Hunter novels, our heroine Joan doesn't trust Rhys yet enjoys a very heated passion in his arms short of intercourse -- Rhys will not go that far until Joan truly consents. Another words, Joan's mind and heart are at odds, and she grasps to causes for complaint in Rhys, such as his connection with Mortimer.

I found the ending in which Joan holds the chisel for Rhys and becomes an extension of his soul so he can still practice his craft, too abstract, too vague. I thought the reappearance of the evil and despicable Sir Guy Leighton again and again a bit too much, I mean Joan puts a knife through Sir Guy, and he's perfectly fine afterwards? A tortured and bruised Rhys pounds Sir Guy in a hand-to-hand duel and he still manages a last-gasp lunge at Joan? I wanted to know more about how Addis and Edward III remove Mortimer and Edward's mother from power besides just sneaking in while Rhys has Sir Guy tangled up in a duel, a diversion.

The final chapter speaks of an impossible love and ends too much like BY POSSESSION, despite all the odds. But I thought BY POSSESSION did it better with better characters.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Devil Takes a Bride, by Gaelen Foley [3]

***/***** (3/5)

Unlike another romance I read previously (DUKE AND I, by Julia Quinn), I really appreciate Gaelen Foley's attention to settings and plots. The romance was heart-felt and the characterizations of Elizabeth "Lizzie" Carlisle and Devlin "Devil" Kimball, the Lord Strathmore, convincing; thankfully, Devil Strathmore isn't too pining, a characteristic we find all too often in our historical romances. Unfortunately, he's still the typical tall, dark, broad-shouldered and handsome rogue, a hackneyed package complete with trimmings of a wounded past and a tortured soul. Also, there were certain parts of both lead characterizations I found a bit dissonant, and certain plot elements too jarring to enjoy the novel completely.

I really enjoyed Gaelen Foley's look into the twisted mind of Julian, the Earl Carstairs. It isn't often authors are risque enough to delve into the minds of their evil antagonists, and certainly not romance authors. Carstairs is interesting to read about to say the least, very perverse, yet cunning in his control of the members of his club. There are also shades of gray in the "bad" characters, they aren't completely evil for the sake of evil, and Quentin, "Damage" Randall, Carstairs, and Sir Torquil "Blood" Staines all exhibit very interesting characterizations for baddies as a result.

Unlike other romance heroes' tortured souls, I really thought Devlin's tortured past resonated, and crested to a climax towards the end in Mulberry Cottage at Oakley Park, a lavish Strathmore estate. The novel actually spent time demonstrating why Devlin's soul is so tortured. I also appreciated that the lead pair confided in each other at the right time over their wounded histories well before the conclusion of the novel.

Rarely do romance novels craft engaging plots, but DEVIL TAKES A BRIDE is an exception. Gaelen Foley balances the plotting and romance effectively, and I was thoroughly captivated by both Devlin's plight for revenge, and his quest for Lizzie Carlisle's heart.

Possible SPOILERS ahead.

My biggest gripe deals with the plot element which pitted Devlin's revenge at odds with his love for Lizzie. DEVIL TAKES A BRIDE makes it seem like Devlin must forsake his revenge in order for Lizzie to accept him; that is, it's a choice between vengeance against the perpetrators which killed 47 innocent people including his parents or love with Lizzie. I understand the characterization in Devlin which makes his plight for revenge soulless, but c'mon, would he really be at peace just letting go of a revenge against the men which killed his parents? Really? Towards the end when Devlin thinks he lost Lizzie at one point, Devlin anguishes he chose revenge over Lizzie. At another point when Devlin divulges his plans for revenge to Lizzie, Lizzie leaves him even though she fully realizes that Devlin's last thread to life was her. Lizzie keenly observes the cold, icy look in his eyes when he talks about his parents' death, and even notices that only her presence is capable of bringing warmth back in his eyes. So why abandon him?

Instead of going forward with the plan for the revenge-in-blood following Lizzie's departure, Devlin instead opts for justice with the law after grieving over his family's deaths at the mausoleum for 3 days, 12 years after-the-fact. With Lizzie gone, I would move forward with the revenge-in-blood plan at once and in haste, especially since he knows Lizzie is in danger. On the third day at the mausoleum, some divine inspiration comes to Devlin, and he arranges for justice even though he knows the men he's going after are titled members of Society, easily able to bribe the constabulary and deflect the law; after all, they did suppress evidence of the fire 12 years ago, didn't they? I just don't get it. He should have exerted more control on the situation at the end having involved himself with the Horse and Chariot Club for a long time coming; he should have locked away Lizzie for her own protection, and killed the perpetrators of the crime which killed his family, in stealth. He was already planning on burning the pavilion with all of the perpetrators including possible innocents in it which isn't exactly honorable, so why not just assassinate them now in stealth, individually and discriminate? Instead of using the rage and cold fury from his wounded past to effect a favorable conclusion -- something that's more than possible -- he instead succumbs to anguish and torture at the end, grieving for days. And returns to London to find Lizzie kidnapped by his enemies. Even though he knew she was in danger!

Then again, I suppose if Devlin acted sensibly at the end (using the cold fury to effect a favorable outcome) then the women characters wouldn't have such a prevalent role at the end. As it stands, Mary Harris and Lizzie both are key.

The plotting towards the end which has Mary Harris miraculously rescue Lizzie from 4 very dangerous men intent on killing both women was very suspect. There's four men guarding a tied-up Lizzie and next thing you know, Lizzie has escaped, and both Lizzie and Mary are running for their lives, with the evil men none the wiser. Mary Harris actually surviving a fatal gunshot and then falling for Ben was also a bit on the cheesy side, not to mention contrived and incongruous.

I didn't like how we weren't treated to the actual marriage until the epilogue in a book titled DEVIL TAKES A BRIDE, I thought it should have happened much earlier. The subplot with Lizzie's Season, and her being Society's Original, Incomparable and a Toast seemed way too contrived. It came out of no where, just to satisfy a girl's dreams even though the book describes Lizzie as very average, appearance-wise. And let's be honest, appearance is important, if it wasn't, most romance novels' heroes wouldn't be tall, dark, broad-shouldered, chiseled and handsome. I thought Devlin should have forced her to marry him like he had originally planned. Ah, well.

I also thought that the ending didn't spend enough time between Devlin and his long-lost sister he hasn't seen for 12 years, Sarah. Devlin & Lizzie's love easily overshadowed the brother-sister reunion, and that seemed a bit inconsistent too.

The Story, possible SPOILERS again.

Devlin Strathmore is 17 when his family perishes from a fire at an inn which kills a total of 47 innocent people. His dowager Aunt Augusta assumes his guardianship and for twelve years, Devlin "Devil" Kimball earns a dubious reputation as a rakehell, travels the world, lives amongst Indians with barbarian instincts, kills a mountain cat, and returns to London to continue his dissolute reputation as a profligate. However, this rakehell outward appearance is a show as he endeavors to earn the trust and confidence of the Horse and Chariot Club, whose members he suspects for the responsibility of the fire which killed his parents.

Elizabeth "Lizzie" Carlisle is companion and caretaker of Devlin's aged Aunt Augusta. After Lizzie learns of the bills Devlin's Aunt Augusta pays on Devlin's dissolute behalf, Lizzie resolves to teach Devlin a lesson, someone she's never met. Fireworks ensue between our leading couple, and the dowager Aunt Augusta notices. The night before Devlin leaves to return to London, Augusta changes her will, amending a provision dealing with Devlin's inheritance.

Following Aunt Augusta's death and at the will hearing weeks later, Lizzie and Devlin learn that Aunt Augusta's will splits the bulk of her fortune between Lizzie and Devlin, on the condition that both marry. Should they not marry within 3 months, the fortune goes to a charitable organization. For some time, Devlin has been accruing many debts so he can treat the members of the Horse and Chariot Club and earn their esoteric confidence. Unfortunately for Devlin, he's been counting on that inheritance money and doesn't wish to drag Lizzie into his dangerous affairs. Now, he has no choice. The actual marriage never does happen, at least not until the epilogue. And we're left to wonder exactly how Devlin manages to stall the collectors of his debts for so long.

The bulk of the novel's content and pacing: there's a flourishing romance between Lizzie and Devlin as Devlin honorably courts Lizzie trying to convince her to marry him; all the while, Devlin tries to uncover the men responsible for his parents' deaths. In general I thought Gaelen Foley handled it well, with vivid settings and gripping plotting. However, I was too dismayed by some specific plot elements: especially the whole revenge vs. love element (why not both? Revenge stories are too fun and have far more potential), and I was put off by Devlin's succumbing, anguishing characterization at the very end after Lizzie inexplicably leaves him when it seemed like she reached an understanding of his tortured soul. Again, I thought Devlin should have exerted more control of the concluding situation which spirals out of control since he was working to maneuver the perpetrators' deaths for 2 years. He shouldn't have been grieving for his loss 12 years ago, when he knew Lizzie was in danger now.

Overall, the romance was heart-felt, the plotting not bad, the settings vivid.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Duke and I, by Julia Quinn [1]

*/***** (1/5)

I didn't know quite what to expect from Julia Quinn's THE DUKE AND I, but one thing becomes abundantly clear a few pages in: Julia Quinn isn't keen on settings or plots, a good ninety percent of the book contains copious quantities of dialogue and conversation. Maybe some readers find descriptions of settings boring, and Julia Quinn accommodates those readers, she altogether shuns settings and plots. The characterizations of Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings, and Daphne Bridgerton are as bad as they get in romance novels. And I'm not sure what the book is trying to accomplish by having Simon pine and incessantly verbalize "I love you" over and over and over at the end, it's as though book wants to convince its readers that this is a legitimate romantic love. Not.

There is no real plot here, unless you want to count the garden-variety heroine-helps-brooding-hero-over-his-tortured-past storyline as veritable plot.

On the plus side, Julia Quinn exhibits a knack for humor, but definitely no where near the level of quality from, say, a Theresa Medeiros . The only likable character in the novel was the mother, Violet Bridgerton.

The Story, possible spoilers.

Our young, innocent and ordinary-looking heroine Daphne Brigerton has been on the market for two seasons, but she's still looking for that gentlemen to love and return her love with at least some affection. The book paints her characterization in an always-a-friend, never-a-wife light, and she isn't described as an extraordinary beauty either.

Thankfully, our tall, broad-shouldered and rich Duke of Hastings, Simon Basset, is very handsome and easily overlooks Daphne's ordinary looks. Brooding Simon Basset harbors a very haunted and tortured past, and after his hated father passes away, he finally returns to England and meets our Daphne, his best friend Anthony's sister.

Simon detests parties and balls, and propositions to Daphne to make it seem like they're attached. Simon reasons a feigned attachment with Daphne will discourage ravenous mothers with their unwed daughters, while at the same time, it will help Daphne overcome the always-a-friend label and gain her more suitors.

The story spirals into oblivion from there with little point and less romance.

For an "innocent," Daphne Bridgerton is very manipulative. She knows Simon doesn't wish to marry, yet coaxes Simon to join her privately in a garden at one of the ton's events where she could be compromised. Simon desperately tries to dissuade her without any luck. When they're kissing in the garden, Simon still attempts to pull away, hoping to honor Daphne without tainting her before a marriage. At that moment, Daphne cries from Simon's separation and Simon is helpless to return kissing her. Daphne's eldest brother Anthony catches Simon & Daphne and proceeds to pummel Simon. Anthony demands Simon marry Daphne, Simon refuses, and then there's to be a duel between Anthony and Simon. Daphne cannot fathom why Simon would choose a duel and death over marrying her, even though Simon did everything in his power to avoid the tryst in the garden and made it clear from the beginning that he cannot marry.

But the whole affair is Simon's fault because he'd rather die than marry Daphne. Even though Simon feels him marrying Daphne would ruin her life. Even though Daphne knows Simon has a hard look in his eyes whenever he talks about marriage and his father. Even though Daphne took advantage of Simon, not the other way around.

Then, right before the duel, Daphne manipulates Simon again, and implies she'll be ruined if Simon doesn't marry her because word has spread of their tryst in the garden (a couple people know, but it could have been kept under wraps). Daphne believes she is saving Simon because Simon won't shoot Anthony. Uhm why can't she just face down Anthony and tell him to stay out of it?! She's going to manipulate Simon's honor to marry him? Seriously? She makes Simon feel terribly guilty about her potential ruined reputation and forces Simon to marry her before the duel can take place.

Of course there's also Daphne seducing Simon a second time to have children, children Simon vehemently opposes. All of this also turns into Simon's fault. Daphne is good, when Simon is drunk, she manipulates him to have intercourse preventing him to spill his seed outside of her.

I was surprised Daphne didn't just call her brothers over to pummel Simon when Simon leaves her after she manipulates him again. Just call in the brothers to beat up your husband if he isn't doing what you want!

The end was a blur, with Simon constantly apologizing to Daphne for lord knows what, even though it was Daphne who manipulates him to have children. Everything is Simon's fault. Simon turns into a pining, love-sick lapdog, I'm sure every girl's dream. Simon is pretty pathetic, the tortured past that he agonizes over was lame, and his pining at the end was lame. Few romance authors produce believable male characterizations, and Simon doesn't fall in this realistic, believable category, not even close. Read Madeline Hunter for believable male characterizations.

Anyway, to summarize: characterizations - bad, plotting - nonexistent, settings - nonexistent.

Friday, May 18, 2007

By Possession, by Madeline Hunter [4]

****/***** (4/5)

Madeline Hunter's writing always seems to be a notch above others', and BY POSSESSION is no exception. Having read and loved THE RULES OF SEDUCTION before (the only "romance" novel I've given 5 stars thus far), I was right at home with Hunter's medieval-era BY POSSESSION. I'm amazed at how realistic and believable Madeline Hunter's heroes are, and Addis de Valence is very compelling, not the sort of "alpha" romance heroes that are more pining than anything else. Though I found myself thoroughly captivated by BY POSSESSION, I thought the plotting and settings took a firm backseat to BY POSSESSION's heart-wrenching love story. The characterizations of our leading pair Moira and Addis are exceptional (Moira especially), but the settings and plotting are a bit weaker than what I'm used to from THE RULES OF SEDUCTION.

BY POSSESSION chronicles the heart-wrenching tale of a serf-woman's impossible love for a lord, giving all she has and expecting nothing in return. Deservedly, this tale belongs to Moira Falkner, serf-born daughter of an acknowledged prostitute. Moira is servant to Claire, the lady betrothed and later married to the handsome Addis de Valence, lord of Barrowburgh. Moira is so forgettable, so ordinary, Addis dubs her Claire's Shadow when Moira is young. Moira however fosters a deep-seeded and hidden love for Addis, and though many openly ridicule Moira because of her mother's dubious position, Addis is kind to Moira when she's young. Moira returns that kindness with such a profound love that blew me away, Moira gives everything she has, her soul, her heart, to Addis without ever expecting anything in return.

In order to escape a disastrous marriage to Claire, Addis leaves on a crusade in the Baltic, where he's captured and held in slavery for 6 years. Upon his return, he finds himself a foreigner in his homeland where everything has changed. Addis' stepbrother usurps Addis' father and now holds Addis' family's stronghold, Barrowburgh. Addis' father is dead, his wife is dead and he discovers he actually has a son, the heir to Barrowburgh. Only Moira remains as a symbol from his tortured past, having cared for Addis' heir and keeping him hidden and safe from Addis' stepbrother.

Even though Moira is no longer bondwoman, Addis refuses to give her up, and tenaciously grasps onto that symbol from his past, refuting her testimony that she was freed. After a few escape attempts, Moira unwittingly finds herself back in Addis' arms and desperately tries to deny her childhood love for Addis each escape attempt. She doesn't want to repeat her mother's rather notorious and dubious position as a lord's mistress even though both loved each other and were true to each other.

As a serf-born girl, Moira knows she has no real future with the rightful Lord of Borrowburgh, and refuses to accept him as his mistress like her mother accepted her lord. Moira desires a home of her own, and she will obstinately accept nothing less. She's prideful, and she holds her honor and respect in society above else, even trying to suppress a deep-rooted love for Addis.

The remainder of the story tells a heart-wrenching tale of Moira's love that can never be, and the unspeakable peace and love Addis finds with Moira. Addis will only take a willing Moira, and honors Moira so much that he won't even use seduction as a means of her acceptance. Instead, Addis is content finding a peace by just being with and around Moira. Addis finds he is only whole with Moira, and can find no peace elsewhere.

Moira's impassioned love for Addis knows no bounds, she gives so freely without any strings attached, without any expectation, that I was blown away. It was a heart-wrenching love because she knows she can never truly be with a Lord, and everything she gives to Addis is that much more profound, that much more impassioned, that much more gut-wrenching.

Again, an excellent tale and I look forward to reading other medieval-era books by Madeline Hunter.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Price of Pleasure, by Kresley Cole [1]

*/***** (1/5)

My 3rd Kresley Cole book after THE CAPTAIN OF ALL PLEASURES and A HUNGER LIKE NO HUNGER, and by far and away, the worst. Worst for the pining, feminine Grant, worst for the bitchy, annoying Victoria, and worst for the boring, unbearable oh-my-god-I-can't-marry-you-until-you-say-I-Love-You-even-though -your-actions-already-relay-it storyline, and rendered in the worst possible ways. Yeah, I need to seriously take a serious backseat from Kresley Cole, so unfortunate because I did enjoy THE CAPTAIN OF ALL PLEASURES.

Grant Sutherland is our Kresley-Cole typical flavor of tall, dark, broad-shouldered and handsome. We're told he plans everything, and that's he's calculating and cold. He sets off on a ocean voyage as captain of a ship to seek for a dying earl's family, shipwrecked at sea. In return for finding any member(s) of the earl's family, Grant will earn Belmont Court, the earl's estate. The first time we see Grant, he's is like a hormone-crazed stallion after his mare. Cold? Detached? Huh?

Victoria Dearbourne, the dying earl's granddaughter, has been shipwrecked, witnessed the death of both her father and mother, buried her mother, and has been sustaining herself for 8 years on an island with a friend (Miss Scout). Unlike tortured-past heroes of the romance genre however, Victoria scoffs at the notion of consolation and compassion, pfft, she needs no such thing! When asked if she regrets anything about the situation from the past which found Victoria and Cammy amongst some bad sailors, Victoria replies she wishes she hit the guy instead of her friend Cammy. And get this. Even though Grant's wounded past doesn't compare to Victoria's, it's Grant that mopes around and needs time to get over himself... Oh. My. God.

After Grant finds Victoria on the island, we're treated to some painful Grant pining for the rest of the novel. Endlessly. Incessantly. Over and over. Repetitively. Again and again.

Possible SPOILERS ahead.

The beginning of THE PRICE OF PLEASURE comprises of endless passages of introspection, mostly of a supposedly "cold" Grant pining, swooning, and flushing over Victoria. I really didn't see a plausible transformation from the cold Grant we saw in THE CAPTAIN OF ALL PLEASURES to the Grant that runs after Victoria on first sight and constantly pines for her.

The purpose of THE PRICE OF PLEASURE becomes quickly and abundantly clear: to break down Grant's restraint and propriety (which is pretty much already broken down around Victoria), and to grind away his calculating, planning nature (which is pretty much gone since he behaves like a flushed schoolgirl around Victoria). The book makes his planning, calculating nature sound evil, as if he's dying inside from it. Ian even makes a comment about it to Victoria, that Grant's calculating nature is making Grant die inside. Only then does Victoria take pity on him and finds herself more curious about him. Surely there's some merit to planning for the future? No, says THE PRICE OF PLEASURE. Instinct, impulse 100% all the way!

Even though Victoria is tenfold more bitchy and arrogant than Grant, THE PRICE OF PLEASURE hones in on disintegrating - as the book sees it - _every single one_ of Grant's character flaws. There doesn't seem to be any redeemable part of his detached, planning nature. When Victoria easily dodges and verbally barbs with a couple of high-society ladies at Whitestone as if she was born to do it, Grant starts questioning his own criticizing of Victoria's carefree personality. Not even a shred of that planning, calculating nature is considered good in THE PRICE OF PLEASURE, indeed, the price of Grant's pleasure is stripping him of his very planning nature. I ask again, surely planning for the future and having a sense responsibility has some merit? No, not according to THE PRICE OF PLEASURE.

At one point, Victoria & Grant are talking through their misunderstandings at Whitestone and Victoria tells Grant she loves him. When the words affection aren't returned, we're left with -- wait for it -- ah yes, yet another story of getting the guy to say the words, "I love you" after the two are separated. Excuse me... [Barf] Is hearing the words really that much more needed than the way Grant already acts towards Victoria, as if she's his life? Really?

I don't think I've seen a guy flush as many times as Grant Sutherland does in THE PRICE OF PLEASURE. In the beginning, I think our "cold, calculating" Grant incessantly flushes over Victoria. If he isn't flushing, he's swooning over Victoria's rather exposed assets on the island, and accepting her barbs and pranks with great joy, all the while harboring a feral need to protect Victoria.

I almost had to throw up when there was a long conversation between Grant & Victoria dealing with propriety, civilized behavior and instinct. Obviously, the point of these early chapters appears to involve breaking down a Grant's cold nature, continuing to flush and swoon like a girl. Can someone point to any evidence of Grant's calculating nature other than being told that he's calculating? Can someone be as stupid as Grant when he scolds Victoria for not being more civilized on an island when she's obviously trying to survive? Holy peanuts batman, can you make a character look as dumb as THE PRICE OF PLEASURE makes Grant out to be?! I understand he wants to be calculating but surely he could recognize that you have to forgo some civilized liberties when you're stranded on an island trying to survive. I don't think even a 13 year-old boy coming into maturity could relate to Grant's reasoning and pining characterization.

Our over-the-top, bitchy heroine's arrogance takes the typical headstrong-heroine routine in romance stories to new heights. She grinds Grant to the ground both from a personality stand-point and from a physical stand-point. She obviously has the upper hand on the island, constantly eluding him and wearing him down, but she also makes him look like dimwit from a personality/intelligence perspective. Especially during the philosophical conversation over propriety and instinct... I wanted to see Grant at least try to wear down her grating arrogance somehow, but no such luck, our supposedly cold and calculating Grant is always flushing and in fierce-protection mode over Victoria!

Okay, I get it. Grant/planning = bad. Victoria/impulsiveness = good.

When Grant hears that Victoria's grandfather has finally passed away, he returns to the Court and -- get this -- apologizes to Victoria for behaving like an ass last they met. Uhm last they met, he begged her again and again to marry him, says that he cares for her, that he respects her, and she demanded he verbalize the words, "I love you," when he couldn't because he didn't know what love was, she promptly shuts the door in his face. He doesn't know what love is (apparently Victoria does and has no problems recognizing it), and even though his every action and thought CENTERS around Victoria, Kresley Cole needs to have Grant apologize to Victoria for behaving like an ass? Okay.

Victoria appears to be superwoman. She's able to survive on an island for 8 years, build a home on the island from only what they find on the island as a teenager (and a home that lasts), outwit Grant, ride a ship like she was born to do it, and re-finance her estate and know everything about it even though she has no experience in the matter. Out of nowhere, there's a plot with her working through the Belmont Court finance records and discovers an error in the wool sales. I thought Grant would excel in studying finance records at least? Uh, why is Grant in this novel? For the muscled skin show and booty calls for Victoria?

I mean we obviously know the whole point of THE PRICE OF PLEASURE; that is, for Victoria to erode Grant's absent calculating personality and put a kink in his well laid-out plans for the future, but gawdalmighty can we please strangle Victoria after?!

While we're at it, I can't remember the last time I wanted to strangle the life out of both of our leading pair as much Victoria and Grant. Please, kill them both...

The book should be re-titled: GRINDING GRANT SUTHERLAND, because we know that's the whole point. Grant pines over Victoria endlessly, Victoria just turns into superwoman with a singular goal in everything she endeavors to do without a second glance to Grant. Abusing Grant seems to be Victoria's favorite hobby, whether it's raising the stakes on him every time he meets one of her demands, or something else, and the book makes it seem like Grant is to blame for everything. Towards the end, Victoria makes it a sport to keep Grant from sleeping, after days of helping Victoria no less. Whenever something hits Grant while he's working, Victoria isn't concerned, she's laughing. Jesus mother of God.

What's funny is I started really getting into the Cammy Scott - Stephen Winfield storyline just for a reprieve from Grant's endless dithering, introspection and pining over Victoria. Please, please, PLEASE anyone but Victoria & Grant!

A Dance of Seduction, by Sabrina Jeffries [1]


I was smiling reading the beginning, the early interaction between Clara & Morgan was fun. Unfortunately, the crux of the novel - Morgan's fear of London and everything it represents to him in his tortured past - just didn't ring true.

Morgan is pretty bland for a roguish scoundrel. Morgan is your typical tortured hero with a "dark" past while the Lady Clara is your typical headstrong heroine who finds High Society boring. Instead, she runs the Home, a shelter for poor children helping them escape the criminal street life so common amongst them.

Spoilers ahead.

As I mentioned, the witty banter between Clara & Morgan in the beginning was fun. The second half of the novel however focuses on Morgan agonizing mercilessly over a past which tortures his soul. Morgan is made out to be a rogue who's done some bad stuff, but I really don't see it. He doesn't even directly the kill the man who ended up causing his mother's death, he only arranged it, as though this is such a big deal, causing all this feminine angst inside him. I fail to see any of Morgan's so-called criminal past, he was a sailor, abducted by pirates (not really doing anything for them), and he was a spy for the government. So where's this criminal rogue? Please, he's as square as they come, and pretty weak agonizing over a "murder" he didn't directly partake in.

I wanted to see a determined and willful Morgan (or at least grow some) kill the Specter in the end, but apparently Clara explains that doing that would erase what's left of his soul. C'mon....

Also predictably, Clara convinces Morgan to see everything her way, that he was afraid of London and he was running from his past by trying to escape London and captain a ship. Towards the end, Clara easily convinces Morgan to not kill the Specter, as if in so doing it instantly and magically releases him of agonizing over his childhood in Geneva (which, of course, it magically does). Clara gets everything she wants: the man she loves, her shelter renovated by her love's wealthy connections, her love working for her at the shelter, and the man she loves chooses to stay with her rather than go back to the sea to captain a ship.

There isn't a single concession on Clara's part, and I didn't find it endearing to read at all. I didn't see a romance here, I saw more a girl's dream for her man to give up everything he is or wants to be for her. I really don't see Clara "saving" Morgan from his wounded past. If anything, his "wounded" past was lame and the fact that he agonized over it was entirely a weak plot device to make it appear Clara salvaged something deep inside him worth rescuing (which it wasn't, since Morgan came off more like a girl than a male rogue).

Clara feels Morgan would resent her if she were to marry him and then have him go out to sea to captain a ship. She will settle for nothing less than having Morgan give up everything he is for her. Maybe I just don't get it, because I don't see how he couldn't resent her for forcing him to stay in London with her. The hubbub regarding his wounded past was weak and didn't ring true at all.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Raven Prince, by Elizabeth Hoyt [4]

****/***** (4/5)

A very enjoyable read, even though it is a bit heavy on the sensual/erotica side. I was close to giving this book 5 stars, but it seemed a bit lacking in the plotting / vivid settings and bit too heavy in the love scenes for me to give it the 5 stars. I prefer a novel in which the descriptive actions and settings is on equal footing with the banter, the dialogue; however, the banter and conversation overshadows the action and settings in THE RAVEN PRINCE.

Still, THE RAVEN PRINCE is too sweet, too fun to really dislike, even if the sensual passion and dialogue seem to reign supreme. Also, there's a bit of a discourse on feminism in the beginning of the novel which I really didn't care for.

I was surprised to read a novel which seemed to get stronger and stronger the more you read it. I was actually having the most fun in the second half of THE RAVEN PRINCE. The story within the story about the fairy tale titled The Raven Prince which gives the book its title was also very endearing.

Like most romance novels, the heart of THE RAVEN PRINCE belongs with our heroine Anna, as she breaks all social barriers and goes to whatever lengths necessary to claim her man.

The Story, possible SPOILERS.

Near-destitute thirty-one year-old Lady Anna Wren, widowed for 6 years, lives with her mother-in-law and seeks employment to improve her impoverished conditions. Although unbecoming of a lady, Anna reasons that it's better to take a hit in status than not live at all. This constitutes the first of many steps Anna takes to break out of her lady-like shell.

Enter our tall, dark, broad-shouldered and unforgivably rich Earl of Swarthingham, Lord Edward de Raaf. Known for his ugly visage due to his pox scars and rueful temper, he's chased away the last two secretaries and it falls on his pitiful and mercy-worthy steward Mr. Felix Hopple to find one in a day. Anna is at the right place at the right time, and though unheard, Mr. Hopple agrees to take on Lady Anna as the earl's secretary.

After Edward meets Anna as his secretary, tempers and passions flare and the story takes off from there. When Anna learns Edward plans to travel to London to satisfy his manly needs, she follows him and meets him at a stylish bordello as a masked temptress. When Edward finally discerns the identity of the masked temptress who seduces him for two nights in a row, the story couldn't get anymore fun.

My biggest complaint...

Not surprisingly, the range of depth in our heroine Anna's characterization far outshines that of our hero. It seemed all too easy to simply just kill off everyone from Edward's past life, his parents, his sister, his brother, his wife and his stillborn child. After Edward shares how his wife and child died, it came to a point like... c'mon enough already, okay, he has a tortured, wounded past, we get it already! I did appreciate how Edward wasn't a reputed libertine, and actually tries to make something of his estate before Anna. Still, Anna's characterization seemed far more interesting and realistic and Hoyt spends much more time with her obviously. Her desire and need to bear a child she couldn't with her first husband was poignant.

Despite Edward's egregious and fulsome wounded past, traces of feminism in the beginning and a little too much of erotica, the book settled on an enjoyable pace, ending very satisfactorily.

The Warrior, by Heather Grothaus [2]


Possible SPOILERS ahead.

I had very high hopes for this novel while reading the beginning. I thought: wow, here's a "romance" novel which actually spends time on meaningful intrigue and vivid settings. And unlike other romance novels, thankfully we're spared of repetitive introspection, while the hero's characterization didn't delve on his imposing size and his tortured soul/past. Tristan D'Argent actually seemed like a character a male author would write, which is a rare in "romance" novels. Unfortunately, the intrigue in the second half of the novel precipitously unraveled into a battle between Seacrest and Greanly, and seemed like everyone came out of the woodwork to help our hero, his half-brother Nicholas, his mother, and his once-departed friend Pharao.

It also seemed Grothaus didn't know what to do with Berti's mother Ellora at the end. Despite harboring a warranted animosity towards Haith, we're told she undergoes a magical turn-around at the end and accepts Berti's choice for her new dark-skinned husband. In the beginning to the middle and when Ellora is imprisoned alongside Haith, Ellora had a very interesting characterization. But that was quickly dropped.

Unlike other romance novels I've read, this novel is extremely light on the sensuality/sex factor, focusing instead on the political intrigue, plotting and the magic. We don't even see a love scene between our hero and heroine until the last 10 pages of novel. I can't recall THE WARRIOR's soul mates kissing until the last 10 pages also. Wow.

I found the mid to later parts of the novel very boring, dragging even. The interaction between lead pair was sparse and entirely forgettable. The ending stretched mercilessly, the baddies (Lord Nigel & Donald the smithy) mustered one last gasp after another when it seemed like it was over. Though Tristan's mother appearing at the end didn't seem out of place, I found the appearance and aid of Tristan's half-brother Baron Nicholas FitzTodd too easy, incongruous and an obvious ruse to set up a possible sequel with Nicholas. Even though Nicholas and Tristan do not share the same father, remarkably, they exhibit a similar imposing physical size.

Can't say I particularly liked Haith's character either. Our predictably headstrong, sharp-tongued heroine (especially towards the hero, also predictably) does her own thing throughout the book, never really fully trusting Tristan or even Minerva for that matter, but it all works out in the end. Even though Tristan completely believes in and trusts Haith halfway through until the end (Tristan dismisses her admission of guilt as Nigel's spy), Haith never really reciprocates that trust. The light sprinkles of interaction between our hero and heroine - Tristan and Haith - was tumultuous at best, and the blissful union between two at the end didn't seem like it answered any of the questions of trust between the two given their untrustworthy interaction. Maybe we're to take it on true love, since they're supposed to be soul mates. And since the Buchanan family talent for magic runs in the woman of the bloodline, it was very unsatisfactorily predictable that Haith & Tristan's first-born would be a girl. [Gags]

Grothaus' THE WARRIOR contained a lot of scenes where Haith is dreaming, and possibly exploring/advancing her magical talent. I didn't get the final dream she has where Pharao appears and she returns to consciousness. Is it meant to signify her acceptance of her talent, which she viewed in a negative light before? So does she have control or doesn't she? I don't understand, because the conversation between Pharao & Haith in Haith's dream was just too nonsensical.

I'm still looking for a novel which adequately balances sff, history, intrigue, characters and romance. Is it too much to ask a romance novel to have substantive male characterization beyond the physical attributes and the tortured/wounded soul also?

The Story, possible SPOILERS.

Haith is the bastard daughter of the Lord James of Seacrest, the Lord James slain in a battle defending his stronghold against the Normans while Haith's magically-talented mother murdered. Haith's half-sister Berti and Berti's mother Ellora take up residence with the new Lord of Seacrest, Lord Nigel. Nigel takes Ellora for his wife and Berti for his stepdaughter. With her former husband Lord James dead, Ellora evicts Haith and her great-aunt Minerva from the Hall, and Haith grows up amongst the Seacrest/Greanly common folk

Lord of Greanly, William's Hammer Tristan D'Argent finally returns home from long battles suppressing rebellions for King William. In order to foster allegiance and alliance amongst his lords, King William has already betrothed Tristan with Haith's half-sister Berti. Upon returning home, Tristan finds all is not well with his new home ever since Lord Nigel of Seacrest has assumed care of Greanly's residents at Seacrest. Nigel also enjoys a double stipend for having to care for both Greanly's commons folk and his own.

There's interesting political intrigue in the beginning and things take off from there as the warrior Tristan ably spars with Nigel in a political game of his own.

Again, there isn't much interaction between our leading pair, so don't hold your breath there. Read it for the gripping plotting, the vivid settings and for the intrigue. I was unconvinced by the romance since it fell back on the "soul mate" plot device to bring our leading pair together at the end. I also didn't care for Haith's shallowly predictable characterization, which is rare since the heroine usually has the substance in romance novels.

Charming the Prince, by Teresa Medeiros [4]


My first Teresa Medeiros novel, and I couldn't be more pleased. The book is just too charming and witty to not love. I was reminded of the classic fairytale Cinderella and the classic movie Sound of Music throughout the novel, but the novel still managed to maintain a fresh, original appeal.

The novel's heart and soul belongs with our witty yet resilient heroine, Willow. It begins with a child Willow looking forward to a new mother only to find out she's a cruel stepmother with a horde of children of her own. A child's dream of being loved by a mother vanishes in a heartbeat along with her own father's favor since his new wife brings money to their impoverished castle and estates.

Willow grows up as little more than a servant and nurse for her stepsisters and stepbrothers. She's bent, but not broken, and still dreams of a prince rescuing her from her beleaguered condition.

Lord Bannor the Bold, favored by the King of England, seeks a plump, unattractive yet caring mother for his estranged 10 children who harass and annoy him daily. He doesn't want anymore children of his own, so resolves to seek an unattractive lady. When he sends out his vassal in search of this lady, they bring back a beautiful Willow, who defies her father and resolves to marry a man she has not seen just to escape her situation. Instead of finding a prince to love, she finds 10 children she must care for as a nursemaid and once again her dreams are shattered.

The charming yet hilarious story really takes off there as a kind, witty and resilient Willow captures the hearts of not only Bannor's children but Bannor as well.

I do have some complaints.


I thought Willow should have been more assertive about having children of her own. She says she doesn't want to have her own children, but she gives in to Bannor about this point too easily.

I also thought the ending could have been better crafted, it left something to be desired as Medeiros inserted other romances without having much to show between the lead pair.

I was actually looking for more scenes between Willow and Banner's children, but it seemed we got all too little of that.

Finally, it ended too quickly! I wanted more of Willow, and I wanted to see the second wedding between Bannor and Willow confirming their vows in front of Willow's family.

But oh well, a thoroughly entertaining and charming read nonetheless.

Lord of Desire, by Paula Quinn [1]


Much to my chagrin, I finished this novel but it was a very painful reading experience. I don't think I could read another Paula Quinn novel, her writing needs to mature quite a bit before I can stomach one of her books again. Maybe I judge too harshly having just read a far superior RULES OF SEDUCTION by Madeline Hunter but wow, the precipitous drop in writing quality was jarring.

I'd characterize LORD OF DESIRE by adolescent and inconsistent characterizations, desultory plotting, and a quagmire of juvenile feelings, emotions and introspection. I'm not sure I knew where the novel wanted to go other than the predictable heroine brings out the sensitive side of our rough hero, finally having him love her at the end. I don't necessarily mind trite plots, but the journey to achieve this end goal was so mired, so fragmented, so jarring, I had trouble stomaching this novel as anything other than a girl's pining over a muscled guy and getting him to say the words, "I love you."

As far as bratty and annoying heroines go, Lady Brynna Dumont ranks up there among the worst of them. She's constantly calling men cads while her adolescent displays of pouting and stomping are admired by the the men she's swearing off. The book desperately tries to make her out to be a predictably fiesty, headstrong heroine. I'm not so sure, I've read other fiesty, headstrong heroines that aren't as imbecilic in their thoughts and actions as Bryanna. She rails against men, she rails against those she perceives as brutes and barbarians with impunity, and she's insufferably hypocritical.

The pinnacle of her hypocrisy: she admires and pines over Lord Brand's raw masculine and chiseled features yet she berates him for his strong actions when he kills the man who attempts to rape her, crying out that he's possessed by demons. I have zero tolerance for a character that behaves childish beyond belief, and Brynna is such a character. Is she so ignorant what warriors do? What her own famed and undefeated lord father does?!? There's demons haunting and preying on every warrior, there has to be for what the do and see out on the battlefield.

LORD OF DESIRE constantly has Brynna brooding over wanting a more sensitive, more feminine Brand (obviously she will), her merman, yet she mercilessly pines over the raw masculine physicality of Brand. If sensitivity is her goal, why not love a short troubadour, I'm sure they're sensitive enough for her needs. They'll ask her for her wishes and needs and desires and humble themselves before her and everyone else. In effect, a girly man.

The book makes every effort to pass her off as the unconventional, headstrong and fiesty heroine, but all I saw was a pouting, stomping and juvenile adolescent. Her incessant whining and brooding over never being loved by Brand or never seeing a more sensitive Brand really got insufferably repetitious.

The plot was the weakest I've seen yet from a romance novel, if you can even call it a plot. By the end, we even have a mistress-from-the-past abducts heroine only to be rescued by hero storyline. True to convention, one of the mistress' lackeys prolongs the ending by hiding and sneaking up on Brynna, putting a knife to her throat and challenging our hero.

As far as romance novels go, this is the worst I've read now. And I've read a few bad ones.

Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville [2]


A Review, with spoilers.

Well my initial reaction: I'm glad I read THE SCAR first, because I wouldn't continue reading China Mieville if I read PERDIDO STREET STATION before THE SCAR. In short, I found PERDIDO STREET STATION a fulsome caricature of Mieville's revelry in interesting creatures, settings, and environments. The characters are pawns to Mieville's imagery, even at the very end -- not a fun read at all. Similar to THE SCAR's main point-of-view (POV) character (Bellis Coldwine), I found Isaac in PERDIDO STREET STATION annoying, uninteresting and just plain drab. The characters I found mildly interesting -- Tanner Sack from THE SCAR, and Lin from PERDIDO STREET STATION -- elicit perfunctory treatment and small, unsatisfying roles.

Unsatisfying endings leave a foul taste in my mouth. I prefer (unconditionally) a satisfying ending from my literature, and I don't read out of some masochistic desire for a bitter ending just for the sake of originality or boldness.

I found PERDIDO STREET STATION's climactic ending entirely unsatisfying, insufferably drawn-out and preachy. The final 3 parts are: The Glasshouse, Crisis and Judgement.

The Glasshouse part contains 36 pages (3 chapters) of set-up to arrive at the slake-moths' nest in the Glasshouse. Maybe ~8 pages of action comprising the climax of The Glasshouse part, and another ~7-9 pages of closure for The Glasshouse.

Following the Glasshouse part, the Crisis part is worse. Get this. The Crisis part contains 62 pages of set-up (5 chapters!) for the first slake-moth to arrive at Perdido Street Station. Slap me silly and call me Gertrude, Mieville sure LOVES to revel in the imagery.

Finally we have a preachy Judgement part where the book teaches us the morality (or lack thereof) of reversing justice. In the end, Yag learns to accept the city he abhored in the beginning. [ Barf ]

Lin's irrecoverable condition casts a very dark, and a very bitter shadow during the final part. You see, on page 321 in the paperback edition I have, Lin disappears from the novel; held, tortured and beaten by Motley the Gangster. Isaac and his companions believe her dead and Isaac mourns her. Nearly 260 pages later, we find that Lin is still alive only to have her mind "half-drained" by the last slake-moth moments later. The book says the slake-moth was only half finished feeding on Lin's mind, so Lin is left with a half-adult, half-pubescent mind. She can't formulate any coherent thoughts, she can't walk straight, and can't eat or crap without help, and she basically needs a nurse 24/7. When our fat scientist character, Isaac, gets aroused in the middle of the night, she returns his affections by trying to mate with him like a dog. Isaac pities her, and cries some more.

So I fail to see the difference between a slake moth completely feeding on a mind of a sentient and half-feeding on Lin's mind. I mean for all intents and purposes, the results are the same right? For me this ending is on the same level as just cleanly killing off Lin & Isaac, while Derkhan flees New Crobuzon. Killing off Lin & Isaac would have been better actually, at least we wouldn't have to read about Lin's condition at the end or Isaac's misery.

I'm at a loss to explain Isaac's actions when Lin turns around to see the slake-moth's wings, especially for someone that supposedly loves Lin and just found her alive after believing her dead for so long. Isaac has his back turned towards Lin (relatively close to him) and the slake-moth while trying to grab Lin's wrist and pull her away as she watches the wings. He even witnesses the slake-moth plunge its slavering tongue into her mouth through his mirror, but does nothing, except trying to reach for her wrist?!?? Uhm, you just found the love you thought dead, and you're going to keep your back turned while you watch the slake-moth slowly approach her and drain her mind?!? I don't understand Isaac's characterization here, he could have turned around, and at least attempted to push her away and sacrifice himself. But, instead, he waits for Yag to do it.

Later, Yag "half-saving" Lin served as a moral plot device for Isaac trying to decide between helping Yag who "half-saves" Lin or preserving the justice passed to Yag long before, from Yag's peers.

Weak, very, very weak.

Endings like these just kill the entire reading experience for me. I didn't like THE SCAR's ending (it just was), but it wasn't half as unsatisfying as the ending in PERDIDO STREET STATION. As you can probably tell, I found PERDIDO STREET STATION's ending very empty.

In PERDIDO STREET STATION, China Mieville has no sides a reader can reliably root for; as a reader, you're hardpressed to care about New Crobuzon and its dissolute denizens, at least from the gruesome, decrepit way Mieville depicts the city. You certainly don't care about its government or the city's architecture. Mieville relishes in delineating the worst, the most squalid parts of the city (Dog Fenn, Spatters, Spit Hearth, The Crow). One begins to wonder if the city has any redeeming qualities whatsoever. Mieville's "main" characters (Isaac & Bellis) are difficult to get behind. Isaac is just annoying, and Bellis' motivations and desires (trying to save New Crobuzon, return to New Crobuzon) from THE SCAR just don't ring true.

In summary: we don't really care about the city and its decrepit architecture, we don't care about the government and certainly not the cruel crime gangs, we don't care for the putrid air, and we definitely don't care about the city's infested rivers. When all the slake-moths come in full force, I couldn't help but =root= for the slake-moths. Seriously, at that point Lin is "dead", Isaac & Derkhan are blah, New Crobuzon is crap, so who cares if the slake-moths turn the entire city into zombies?

It's funny, I wanted to see more of Lin in PERDIDO STREET STATION; instead we get plenty of Isaac. I wanted Isaac and all his companions including Derkhan to die already; instead, Lin dies (twice). In THE SCAR, I wanted to see more of Tanner; instead we receive healthy dose of Bellis, simply serving as our eyes and ears to events, places, creatures, and other people and things.

Mieville's vivid imagery in his settings is as strong ever. Now if he could only balance that with existentialist, empowering characterizations and a somewhat satisfying ending.

The Seduction, by Nicole Jordan [1]


I was thoroughly disenchanted by this novel after reading THE WARRIOR first. I believe Nicole Jordan wrote THE WARRIOR first, and this particular novel pales in comparison.

This book appears to recycle and repeat a lot from THE WARRIOR. Exactly like THE WARRIOR, there's plenty of introspection from the lead pair and plenty of screen time between the two. Exactly like THE WARRIOR there's a baddie which makes an attempt on the heroine's virtue. Exactly like THE WARRIOR, towards the end the hero proposes marriage, the heroine asks why and rejects the proposal after hearing the answer deeming the reasons for it unsatisfactory, and finally the hero repents and tries to redeem himself in the eyes of the heroine. I thought THE WARRIOR did all of these much better, without the blatant pornographic feeling of this particular novel.

There's even a quote in THE SEDUCTION which I believe was taken word for word from the THE WARRIOR about plying the heroine with wine. I swear!

Both Damien and Vanessa appear to be playing a game of Dare, daring the other to go to the next extreme before they reveal their true feelings for each other. The mid to later parts of the novel reads as though from a porn, containing endless pages of "seduction."

I found the ending very lacking. After Vanessa hears of all of Damien's altruistic acts towards her family, she finally goes to him when Damien bequeaths a substantial sum of money in her name, giving her something she's always wanted: her independence and freedom to marry whomever she wishes. Despite all of the letters demonstrating Damien's reformed status and Damien finally saying the words that he loves Vanessa, Vanessa wants to know how he can know it's love?! Wow, just wow...

I know many don't read romance novels for the plot, but boy, this novel takes plotting to new lows. There's plenty of repetition and the characters aren't endearing in the least. I found the romance dry as well.

I'll have to give Nicole Jordan one more try and see if she repeats and recycles so much, because I really enjoyed THE WARRIOR.

The Warrior, by Nicole Jordan [4]


I have to say I find Nicole Jordan's style interesting, to say the least. Jordan often times shifts perspective in the middle of a page, between Ranulf and Ariane, first describing what Ariane was thinking in one paragraph and then all of a sudden describing what Ranulf was thinking the very next paragraph.

Overall, I enjoyed the novel, even though Ranulf's treatment of Ariane often times bordered on cruelty. I also thought that Ranulf's reasons for his harshness towards Ariane weren't justified. What his cold demeanor served, however, was to strengthen Ariane's character tenfold. Predictably, Ariane is a bit stubborn and rebellious, but unpredictably, she's very strong to endure and accede to Ranulf's very rigid treatment without complaint.

I don't find myself often rooting so much for the heroine in romance novels as much as I rooted for Ariane. Mainly because I know romance-novel heroines are usually very stubborn and uncompromising in their own way to get the guy completely on their terms, but I absolutely loved Ariane. I found myself wanting to see Ariane make Ranulf suffer. And she finally does make him suffer in the end a bit.

The novel ends very satisfactorily and Ariane's enormous heart and strength in the face of trying circumstances rule supreme. The book belongs to Ariane, and deservedly so.

Dragon and Phoenix, by Joanne Bertin [1]


A Very Disappointing Sequel after an Entertaining Debut

A Review, spoilers galore.

Unfortunately for me, Bertin’s DRAGON AND PHOENIX accentuates all the things I disliked about THE LAST DRAGONLORD while diminishing aspects of THE LAST DRAGONLORD I enjoyed thoroughly. I consider THE LAST DRAGONLORD an endearing, an enjoyable reading experience, even for guys. However, I found DRAGON AND PHOENIX a jarring, if not offensive, read. Male characterizations don’t get much worse than the ones we find in DRAGON AND PHOENIX.

Gone is the romantic characterization of Maurynna Kyrissaean, a girl who dares to dream of loving her lifelong hero in THE LAST DRAGONLORD. However, we can hardly fault Bertin for this since Maurynna lands her hero by the end of THE LAST DRAGONLORD. Gone are the well-crafted humorous and romantic scenes from THE LAST DRAGONLORD, it’s down to business in DRAGON AND PHOENIX. Gone is the lighthearted, pleasant tone of the LAST DRAGONLORD. And I wouldn’t describe the conspiratorial events in an oriental Jehanglan as politically intriguing. They were drab, inelegant and lumbering, the characters therein entirely uninteresting. Not that THE LAST DRAGONLORD’s “political intrigue” in Casna was a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but its political backdrop was certainly a few levels above this novel’s.

I was disinterested by all the “story arcs” in Jehanglan, even the climax of the story from there when Shei-Luin kills the Emperor was meh. I thought our hero Linden was thoroughly effeminated with a fair amount of estrogen. I’ve rarely read a weaker, dumber, more sensitive male character than Linden Rathan. I found Rathan (Linden’s dragon soul) very interesting from the last book, so full of rage and mirth. We don’t see Rathan in DRAGON AND PHOENIX until the very end, and only for a couple paragraphs.

Raven’s entire behavior from beginning to end was baffling and inexplicable. And I thought it’s girls I’d never understand, but I’d pin our young boy Raven’s personality and behavior as though of a pregnant woman.

If you thought THE LAST DRAGONLORD jumped around between too many characters while adding little, if nothing, to the plot, you’ll find DRAGON AND PHOENIX compounds the issue tenfold. I didn’t realize it in THE LAST DRAGONLORD, but it’s apparent from DRAGON AND PHOENIX that Bertin _really_ likes writing 2,3,4,5-paragraph passages from a wide number of character perspectives. The goal of these passages: accelerate the momentum of the novel, make the novel a page-turner; perhaps these desultory passages _do_ meet that goal, but maybe not the way it was intended.

The worldbuilding of Jehanglan? Nonexistent, if not downright callow, so you need only read a sentence or two from a character’s dialogue in order to gleam the gist of the passage. But worldbuilding isn’t Bertin’s strength anyway, THE LAST DRAGONLORD will testify to that. The point is, too many disjoint, amorphous and insubstantial passages from a whole army of character perspectives in Jehanglan paralyze the plot rather than driving it forward.

As bad as the male characterizations in THE LAST DRAGONLORD were, they deteriorate to new lows in DRAGON AND PHOENIX. I found the Linden Rathan characterization in DRAGON AND PHOENIX worst of all and very crippling to the entire novel. It’s clear that Linden Rathan represents a girl’s perfect guy: broad-shouldered, deep voice, big, shoulder-length blond hair and a buttock-length braid signifying his heritage as a Yerrin. He’s as dense, as stupid and as dumb as ever, traits clearly carried from the last novel. For all intents and purposes, Linden Rathan is Maurynna’s love-sick lapdog. In =every= sentence, Linden includes “Maurynna-love” or “love.” Again, big, tall, deep voice, obedient, servile, understanding and an overbearing feminine sensitivity. Oh and let’s not forget, a complete halfwit.

You may wonder how I find Linden both understanding and dumb at the same time. Well, he’s understanding/sensitive about everything having to do with Maurynna while completely dense about any of any plots, until of course the last minute, where enlightenment comes to him all at once in one paragraph! Like Baisha’s plot to betray the dragonlords and their companions. Not only a nitwit, once again there’s no on-screen evidence of Linden Rathan’s so-called skill with the sword.

Let’s run through these rather appealing traits in Linden Rathan with examples from the book, shall we?

At one point in the novel there’s three – yes, I kid you not, three – paragraphs on Linden thinking how he can’t control Maurynna’s life after he hears that she must travel to Jehanglan. He fears for her safety, but our Linden Rathan understands that he can’t imprison her either. He drones on and on about it. Since Maurynna can’t Change again, Lady of the Dragonskeep orders her to remain at the Dragonskeep lest she’ll endanger herself. Maurynna feels jailed and longs for the sea from her life as Captain of the Sea Mist, but the Lady of the Dragonskeep refuses. Unbeknownst to Maurynna, Linden pleads to the Lady almost every day, asking the Lady to allow Maurynna to sail and see her family and friends one last time, with the Lady refusing each time. How considerate of Linden, though, right?! Thanks for playing, Linden, buddy, maybe next time!

When Otter comments that truehuman life spans are to dragonlord lifetimes “like moths in a flame,” Maurynna recoils, and yes, our compassionate, sensitive Linden Rathan is right there to slip a hand underneath her cloak for comfort. For that matter, whenever Maurynna is emotionally or physically pained, our sensitive hero says and does all the right things like a happy, servile lapdop!

This emotional understanding and compassion Linden constantly feels for Maurynna can’t be from their soultwin bond since Kyrissaean has shut herself off from that sort of magical connection, right? Must be a one-way street, because Maurynna fails to show the affection, compassion, understanding, and swarming devotion Linden relentlessly exhibits for Maurynna. Even during unromantic, business conversations, Linden abuses the appellations “love” or “Maurynna-love” mercilessly. After Linden suffers a badly bruised shoulder from a Llysathian being hauled up to a ship, Maurynna is pretty much unconcerned.

When Raven makes a move for Maurynna alone in the stables, Linden “understands” and lets it go. When Raven uses every opportunity to gloat over Linden on some piece of knowledge or decision, Linden lets all of that go too, respecting Raven’s feeling for Maurynna. Wow, Linden is nothing if not the virtue of understanding and sensitivity.

When they learn that after arriving in Jehanglan, Maurynna & Raven must venture off alone without Linden, Linden is enraged and fearful for Maurynna beyond belief. He destroys a wine goblet, and walks out of the room. Maurynna soon follows. On the stairwell outside Linden, in the midst of his fury, suddenly remembers his manners, and makes room on the steps for her! I love it! When Linden mentions he hopes she will never come to know how much it hurts for him to agree to this, she calmly answers, “I know,” and explains how she had gone through a similar thing during the climax of THE LAST DRAGONLORD because it hurt to feel the danger Linden would be in. Interesting to note that unlike Linden in similar circumstances, there’s no coddling or comforting touches on Maurynna’s part here, just a patronizing “I know.” In true lapdog fashion, Linden shortly thereafter acquiesces. Nice pointless display of anger to no end. So, so, _sooooo_ very understanding of Linden to take it all so well and take it on good faith from the Seer truedragon Morlen that only Maurynna can go into the mountain to free the imprisoned truedragon there.

Screw everything else, why not do something because you want to for a change, not because you’re supposed from a prophecy and definitely not because someone else wants you to? If you really believe Maurynna will be in danger and you want to help, find a way to make it happen! Linden doesn’t show any spirit, any personal volition. A perfect, servile lapdog for Maurynna.

In Stormhaven, when you thought it wasn’t possible for Linden to play the servile lapdog any better than he already was, guess again. When Maurynna sees her extended family the Erdons for the first, she finds they all behave differently now that she’s a dragonlord. Linden is always there for a comforting arm-around-the-waist or some or words of assurance with the obligatory “love” or “Maurynna-love.” There’s little purpose to Linden’s presence here. It’s Maurynna who fends off a mean uncle (Darijen) from Raven, it’s Maurynna who intercepts Raven’s father blow intended for his son with lightning-quick dragonlord speed. But let’s not forget Linden is there for a good’ole arms-around-the-waist! Linden goes insofar as to talk to Maurynna’s nice uncle (Kesselandt) so he’d address Maurynna as “dear” instead of “Your Grace.” Wow, that Linden, he’s swell! I think I’ll go throw up now….

An effeminated Linden pouts insufferably over being separated from Maurynna after it finally happens. More than Maurynna! As though Linden needed more estrogen in his body…

The pinnacle of Linden’s idiocy comes when something he feels a sneaking suspicion that keeps taunting him regarding something Taren/Baisha said, but he just can’t put a finger on it. In this case, Linden is sufficiently pampering Maurynna in their quarters when he’s thinking about something Taren and the Dragonkeep archivist (librarian) said earlier. Next thing you know, Linden dreams of ferrets and how they looked like mages herding rabbits. In a =shocking= moment of revelation (gasp!!), it dawns on Linden that Jehanglan has priest mages and they’re drawing magic from the imprisoned dragon to ward off would-be attackers. Linden promptly arrives at the Lady’s apartment next morning to share his brilliant discovery! The Lady of the Dragonkeep and the other truedragons however already know. Aweee, thanks for playing, Linden, better luck next time, buddy! Uh what was the point of all that, couldn’t we just have learned about the Jehanglan priests and their sorcery earlier when the truedragon Morlen and the Lady are talking about it? Why go to such great lengths to make Linden out to be such blockhead?!

Linden’s ineptitude with sword, magic and dragon continues from THE LAST DRAGONLORD. Linden Rathan is weak beyond belief. We’re constantly _told_ how Linden is a remarkable soldier, a formidable mercenary and a great sword, but we simply find no evidence of it in the books. Of course I’m not sure if combat writing is one of Joanne Bertin’s fortes.

Nobody likes the damsel in distress storyline, and it seems like these dragonlord books goes to great lengths to make the damsel’s slippers fit Linden’s feet. Our young, headstrong heroine – Maurynna – scoffs at the notion of being saved from anything.

Towards the beginning, Morlen the truedragon attempts to mindspeak Kyrissaean, Maurynna’s dragon self. When that doesn’t go well, Morlen calls to Linden to come quickly for help for his soultwin looks to be in danger. Linden jumps out of the window from a cliff, and then all the characters judiciously note how trying to Change while in motion is dangerous. For over a page, the person really in danger becomes Linden as he struggles beyond comprehension to Change and take flight away from the cliff. Linden expends an exorbitant amount of energy and effort to Change but he finally manages. Then he unfortunately scratches his wing against the cliff bleeding all over. When he arrives at the meadow where 5 truedragons and Maurynna are, the danger to Maurynna has already passed and now Maurynna must save Linden. Maurynna screams for Linden to not attack, he has no chance against that many truedragons, one truedragon is a more than a match for a dragonlord. Linden though finally Changes back to human form and Maurynna rushes to him, saving our Captain Genius yet again. Linden once again has accomplished =nothing= . Thanks for playing though Linden, please try again!

Maurynna is able to sense well in advance when something is about to go badly for Linden. Linden cannot do that for Maurynna and instead usually ends up getting himself into trouble.

After it’s decided that Raven will travel with Maurynna alone to the mountain in Jehanglan, Linden teaches both Raven and Maurynna how to fight. Conveniently, we find no actual scenes of Linden proficiently using the sword or teaching someone else with it.

At one point, Raven – a truehuman – is capable to sneak up on Linden and his heightened dragonlord senses without a single problem with a sword intent to kill. Linden calmly explains how everything will be alright, relaying a story from his childhood when Linden wanted to kill his father but didn’t. Sooo understanding, sooo inept to let Raven walk up to him like that. It appears the goal here is to use Linden’s incompetence to begin softening Raven so Raven won’t betray Linden & Maurynna later on.

The other male characters are stalkers/nothing-is-wrong friends (Raven), or villains (Taren, Jhanun, Haoro) or obedient, stupid lapdogs similar to Linden (Xiane, Yesuin, Lleld’s soultwin Jekkanadar). Among these, Raven’s characterization especially makes no sense. He’s hot/cold, angry/warm, friend/foe like a pregnant woman. In the beginning, he’s very antagonistic towards Linden and makes a move on Maurynna. When Maurynna throws him away, Raven is cold with anger. Next thing we know, all 3 are together, learning languages and sword like nothing ever happened. He’s pleasantly calling Maurynna “beanpole” after storming away when Maurynna puts her foot down that he can’t accompany her to the Iron Temple for what she must do (“Dragonlord’s orders”). At the very end of the novel, Linden, Raven and Maurynna are joking like old friends like nothing ever happened. Uh, okayyyyy, I must of have missed something.

In DRAGON AND PHOENIX, even Maurynna’s characterization dulls considerably from the last novel. She just isn’t fun to fun to read anymore, she’s brooding about going back to sea or how she can’t Change again or how she’s a pretty weak and insignificant dragonlord since she can’t Change. This sulking over one’s insignificance (“I’m the least of the dragonlords”) is a common ruse employed by a lot authors to make a character feel insubstantial when it’s glaringly obvious they’re the key to the entire plot and will perform a powerful act during the climax, when it counts the most.

Maurynna didn’t know anything about the political plots in THE LAST DRAGONLORD, and she was a fledgling then. Yet, after her first Change she manages to save Linden by torching a dragauth _and_ kill the primary antagonist in that novel, a powerful mage.

With DRAGON AND PHOENIX, simply rinse and repeat this formula. Although she doesn’t save Linden per say in this novel, she does finally manage to Change during the climax and heal Linden at the end.

Lleld is insanely annoying. I don’t think there’s a single redeeming quality about Lady Mayhem.

The Story, a quick summary.

With a billion character arcs from Jehanglan, none of them end satisfactorily, and I didn’t even care about any of’em.

Basically there’s a prophecy. Companions must travel to a faraway, unknown land (Jehanglan), where One Who Holds the Key (Maurynna) must separate from the others. The One Who Holds the Key is our typical, underrated character and she must travel to the depths of a Mountain in enemy territory where only she can perform a task. While the One awaits certain death from her enemies wading across the stream, there’s a magic flood which wipes out her enemies ultimately saveing the One. There’s someone within the companionship who will betray them.

Any of this sound familiar?

Unlike LORD OF THE RINGS however, one of the groups split up from the One has nothing to do until the One completes her task in the Mountain.

Overall, a very unsatisfying reading experience, even torturous at times.

The Last Dragonlord, by Joanne Bertin [4]


Overall, a very entertaining read here. If you're looking for heroic swordplay or a hard-nosed, kick-butt male protaganist, you won't find it here. Bertin's Linden Rathan is a bit on the sensitive side, and despite songs and stories of his glory, there's no evidence of his mastery with the sword or magic in this particular novel. Bertin presents Linden as a pretty weak character, both mentally and physically (and I don't mean his size, he's weak with sword and magic).

Still, at the heart of The Last Dragonlord, there's something very endearing, very magical about a girl who lands her lifelong hero, even as a guy reading it, I found it very endearing. I couldn't help but fall in love with Captain Maurynna Erdon's character -- she's stubborn, headstrong, not the most beautiful girl but certainly no hunchback, very accomplished, and of course, a fledgling dragonlord.

Joanne Bertin's strengths are obvious. She writes very endearing romantic scenes, compelling female characterizations (Maurynna, Maylin, Tasha, even Sherinne), and some interesting political intrigue. I even found myself laughing out loud on a number of occasions, especially via Bertin's Otter. In general, the tone and prose of the novel conveys a light, fast read.

Bertin's weaknesses? With the exception of Otter, her male characterizations are weak if not uninteresting. Ironic isn't it, since our female heroine finds Linden Rathan the most interesting hero ever. There are some plot holes in the story, but what story is perfect anyway? There are passages from certain characters which doesn't really add to the impetus of the plot, and more or less fractures a disjoint story even more. Bertin tries to set the stage using various, disjoint passages from a wide variety of perspectives, but in the end, they don't add much.

The Story.

The plot blurbs and book inset really doesn't do the story justice. The real story: Dragonlord Linden Rathan is the last dragonlord in a top-ranking society of dragonlords, and the only dragonlord without a soultwin. Dragonlords are an interesting breed, they can change between human and dragon form, they have some magical capabilities, and each is bonded by soul to another of the opposite sex. For over six centuries (or was it 8?) Linden Rathan seeks his soultwin, but without any luck. He's always bitter and jealous when he has to witness other soultwinned dragonlords together. Linden was 28 when he endured his first Change to a dragon and like all dragonlords, he hasn't aged physically over the centuries much since his first Change. Dragonlords also have a very interesting dichotomy: there exists 2 sentient souls in one body, the human soul and the dragon soul. Out of amusement, the dragon soul - though stronger and more powerful - slumbers and is usually content to let the human soul dominate over the body (both in human and dragon form) until the human soul wearies and passes away, leaving the truedragon. A dragon is pretty patient and time has no meaning to them anyway.

The rest is backdrop: Linden is sent by the "Lady" of the Dragonlords to Casna to oversee a conflict of regency after the Queen of Cassori dies as well as her Prince-Consort, leaving a very young boy as the only surviving heir. There exists 2 uncles contending for the interim Regency until the boy comes of age, Peridaen and Duke Beren. Three dragonlords are sent to sit in judgement and prevent civil war. There's plenty of bureaucratic council meetings which hold the 3 dragonlords at Casna for an extended period of time and the rest of the novel. A plethora of political threads are hatched as soon as the dragonlords arrive, delaying their return back to dragonkeep even more.

Along with the bard Otter, Captain Maurynna Erdon, 19, travels on her ship the Sea Mist to Casna's port to deliver her cargo for trade. Descendent from a wealthy merchant family and rising to Captain quickly, she has family in Casna: an aunt, uncle and 2 cousins, Maylin & Kella. Like her younger cousin Maylin, Maurynna has a peculiar marking: mismatched eyes, one blue, the other green. Interestingly enough, Otter is the connection between Linden Rathan and Maurynna, since Otter is friends with both. Although rare for a truehuman, Otter can mindspeak Linden, and asks him if he objects to being introduced to Maurynna in Casna. Otter knows that Dragonlord Linden Rathan has always been Maurynna's hero, you see, and she dreams of meeting him one day. For Maurynna, meeting Linden Rathan would be a dream-come-true and she yearns for that meeting like nothing else. Linden consents to the meeting though he inwardly dreads another meeting another girl fawning over him and his heroics from ages long past.

Unbeknowest to Maurynna, 3 dragonlords -- including her hero Linden Rathan -- are at her destination in Casna to arbitrate the dispute over regency. Otter teases her about a surprise waiting for her, without revealing any details. Maurynna constantly threatens to keelhaul Otter.

While our heroine Maurynna is still en route, Linden mires himself with the most beautiful woman at Cassori court: the Lady Sherrine of Colrane. Our beautiful, young Sherrine has a rather lascivious reputation of picking up and dropping men like flies. No one dumps Sherrine, Sherrine dumps them. Sherrine is daughter to Lady Anstella of Colrane, while Anstella is Peridaen's lover; recall Peridaen is contending for the interim regency. Kas Althume -- Peridaen's "steward" -- plots to have Sherrine in bed with Linden in order to pluck more information about the tightly-wrapped magical abilities of the dragonlords. Althume is not what he seems. A powerful blood mage, Althume aspires to destroying dragonlords once and for all and revives the Fraternity of the Blood, a clandestine cult bent on the supremacy of truehumans and truehumans alone. Anstella, Peridaen and Sherinne are all enlisted in this Fraternity.

Yet-to-be-soultwinned Dragonlord Linden Rathan is quite a catch, you see, with all the young women and ladies vying for his attention and company; even a fleeting, cursory acquaintance would suffice for them. Sherrine strikes just the right cords with Linden and she has Linden snared from the first moment. However, she isn't all that successful in gaining more information about dragonlords and their magic. Linden does manage to hold that information back, but not for long.

While the bureacratic council meetings over the Cassori Regency drag on intolerably, Linden discovers other things outside of the council meetings and outside of his affair with Sherinne. Young Rann - the only survivng Cassori heir - is sickly, pale and emaciated. Healer Tasha has tried fair number of things, none of them working. Duke Beren's wife, Lady Beryl seems to constantly hijack Rann for "lessons." Duke Beren himself is very billigerant towards dragonlords and towards Linden. Linden falls into all the usual traps of outward appearances, and starts suspecting and believing exactly what Althume and Peridaen want him to.

There's a joke in the novel when Linden and Maurynna first meet about how tall, big brutes like Linden usually aren't very bright ("Big and stupid as the day is long."). Not just a joke in Linden's case, even at the climax where it seems like Linden has finally connected all the trails of scheming and all at once, he's still pretty dense. Linden and the dragonlords are, for the entirety of the novel, reacting to the political plots and schemes set in motion, never really commanding any of their own.

When Linden chances upon a place of blood magic in the woods which drives truehumans away, Linden and the other dragonlords don't really do anything about it. Even when Linden returns above that place in the woods as a dragon, and even when Rathan (Linden's dragon soul name) wanted to torch the whole place, Linden prevents it. We're not sure exactly why Linden prevents it, except apparently it may torch some nearby farms. Uh if this place is so deep in the forest as we're led to believe why would there be farms nearby? If this is a place of pure evil blood magic as all the 3 of the dragonlords in Casna agree, shouldn't they mindcall some other dragonlords to watch the place at all times, at the very least? And doesn't Maurynna's dragon soul torch the place in the end anyway? Following Linden's discovery of the place and Rathan's confirmation of its evil, Althume constantly uses that place to sacrifice prostitues in order power a soultrap jewel. Another dragonlord or two called in should have been watching it at the very east. If Sherinne can walk into that Place of Evil at the end, surely =someone= can keep an eye on all the trails leading to it, right?

Throughout the entire novel, we're led to believe that a dragonlord's dragon soul is very dangerous, but then why is all the evidence in the book contrary to that? The dragonsouls have all the right instincts and they never fail to aid when called upon during times of greatest need. When Linden and Maurynna finally mate and Rathan takes over, no one is hurt despite all the warnings to the contrary. And Maurynna hadn't undergone her first Change yet so it was supposedly very dangerous to them both. But they're both fine afterwards. When Althume attacks Dragonlord Tarlna via the soultrap jewel, Tarlna's soultwin Kief isn't strong enough to help. That's when Kief's draconic half Shaeldar awakens and aids him in saving his soultwin Tarlna's life. Again, the draconic being very helpful and having all the right instincts. Obviously, Rathan's original instinct to destroy the Place of Evil Blood Magic was the right one.

Not only is Linden pretty dense, but he's also very weak. He doesn't display any talent for magic or swords despite all the historical stories of him to the contrary. I have no problem with the poisoning plot with Sherinne, leaving Linden incapacited and weak.

It's Linden's weakness during the climactic end I have a huge problem with. After Linden connects many of the dots of the political schemes all in one page, he rushes to the Place of Evil (a place he should have had someone watching at all times to begin with) to stop Althume from sacrificing Rann. All of a sudden, the lingering effects of the poisoning incident many, many days earlier still debilitates Linden, and Linden is too weak to really help. Althume's one guy Pol manages to knock Linden over the head, and Linden doesn't even see it coming. With an unbelievable amount of effort and struggle, Linden manages to kill the unarmed, truehuman Pol with his greatsword. But of course he can't do anything else, he obviously didn't really think things through when he rushed headlong to the Place of the Evil to rescue Rann. He decided against Changing into a dragon first (his reasoning against the Changing makes zero sense, because obviously it helped Maurynna when she arrives there as a dragon later on, and Maurynna has no experience!). During the final climactic scene at the end, Bertin notes that Linden is still weakened from Sherinne's poisoning. By why, didn't it happen weeks before?! Wow. Maurynna has quite the strength then. She swims her way back to Casna after jumping ship in the middle of a storm (and she swims quite a distance from the middle of the sea!), climbs a very steep cliff, almost falls, and she's perfectly fine changing into a dragon for the first time, flying to the Place of Evil, frying a dragauth (ugly beast raised by Althume) before it killed Linden, kills Althume too and then flies away. After Maurynna's dragon soul (Kyrissaean) flies away from the Place of Evil, Linden runs out of the woods to Change so he can subdue Maurynna's draconic soul and bring back Maurynna. But he's too weak to even Change!

I have real trouble believing in all the fabled stories of Linden's heroism; he isn't very smart and he certainly isn't very strong with sword and magic. I understand why an author wouldn't want to make characters seem too powerful, but man, Linden is as weak and dense as they come in this novel. His sole purpose: a big oaf for Maurynna to moon over.

The highlights of the novel obviously belong to Maurynna. She's very fun to read, especially when she's mad at Linden for something. Her anger melts away though every time she's back with him.

I enjoyed Maurynna's first meeting with Linden. Obviously very romantic, as Maurynna mistakes Linden for a dockhand when she arrives in Casna. She calls him an ass and orders him to earn his pay. Linden obliges. Not knowing either one's names, Linden kisses her in the hold of Maurynna's ship, both driven by an intense and inexplicable attraction to one another. Linden later confirms that Maurynna is his soultwin and he's finally found his soultwin after all of these centuries. They meet for the second time at Maurynna's aunt's place when Maurynna drops a coin into a well, wishing to see the dockhand again. Also a very romantic scene there as Maurynna discovers who her dockhand really is -- her lifelong hero, Dragonlord Linden Rathan. Bertin's Otter is in his humorous element here. Later, there's again a very romantic picnic scene on a beach, and again Bertin is in her element. Maurynna can't believe this is happening to her. Maurynna is content, and happy beyond belief to be with Linden. Linden equally so, but Maurynna's dream-come-true to meet with her hero easily overshadows Linden's centuries-long wait for his soultwin.

Sherinne intervenes from here after she discovers that some low-born wench (Maurynna) has stolen Linden away from her. No one dumps Sherrine, Sherrine dumps them. And more, Sherrine actually feels a love for someone (Linden) for the first time in her life. So with her guards in tow, Sherrine hunts down Maurynna's aunt's home demanding to see Maurynna. She injures Maurynna as Linden arrives. After Maurynna is healed by Tasha, the Dutchess Alinya (current ruler of Cassori until the regency is settled) advises Linden to stay away from Maurynna lest he endanger his soultwin even more.

Linden consents and tells Maurynna they can't see each other again. The words rip out Maurynna's heart. Even this part is fun to read, because it really hits home Maurynna's dream to be with Linden. She lashes out Linden, "Then go. Go ur Lady Sherrine, Linden; she's beautiful. Not like me, with my mismatched eyes and calloused hands... It shall be as you wish, Your Grace. Indeed, I never want to see you again," she lied. "Go." She cries herself to sleep.

Later, she takes out her anger on other people for not being able to see Linden. She mutters, "I hate him," over and over but obviously she can't let go of her need, her intense desire, to be with him.

When a Fraternity spy divulges that there's a fledgling dragonlord about and that she's Linden's soultwin, Althume, Peridaen and Anstella are too smart for their own good as they arrive at all the wrong conclusions. Althume assumes Sherrine this soultwin, reasoning that Linden rejected Sherrine in favor of this new girl in order to protect Sherrine. Completely unintentional, and nothing of Linden's doing, but very convenient for Maurynna. Although in a different location, Sherrine has the same wine-colored birthmark as Linden, which seems to lend credence to the fact that she may be a fledgling dragonlord and Linden's soultwin. As tightly-wrapped as dragonlord secrets are, apparently these markings are public knowledge? Okayyy. Althume targets Sherrine for a dragonlord enslavement spell, and without any further investigation into the other girl whatsoever.

When Althume schemes to have Linden drink from Sherrine's Farewell Cup in public, Linden is completely incapacitated, and in the grips of severe pain later on. When he's alone and intercepted by Althume and Pol, Linden spasms in pain and cannot open his eyes. The magical poison mixed in the cup allows Althume to asks questions and control the victim completely, a truth serum if you will. After Althume has learned a great deal of dragonlords' magic, he asks Linden if there's a fledgling dragonlord in Casna. With little resistance, Linden answers, "Yes." Just when Althume is about to ask who this fledgling is (to confirm Sherrine), Maurynna arrives in a frenzy with a dagger in hand. Taking Maurynna for a mature dragonlord, Althume and Pol flee. So Maurynna really saves herself here, and arrives just in the nick of time to prevent Linden from revealing the true identity of the fledgling, because Althume was planning on letting Linden go with the antidote after he had his answers. Maurynna doesn't really know that she's a fledgling, but she really saves herself here even though Bertin would have us believe that otherwise. Before running in on Althume, Pol and Linden in a frenzy, Maurynna was at a ceremony and couldn't get Linden out of her mind. She feels that Linden is in danger somehow, but really it was her that was in danger if Linden revealed the fledgling's name.

After the traumatic poisoning episode, many days pass as Tashsa finally discovers how to purge Linden of the poison. Maurynna is forbidden from seeing Linden during this time. After Tasha purges Linden of the poison, he reverts into a state of self-pity. Again many days pass. Linden is recovering, but he still feels sorry for himself, horrified that he's revealed some important dragonlord secrets.

Again, Maurynna rescues him from this. Maurynna is still bitter towards Linden and Bertin describes this black dog which claws at Maurynna with every thought or mention of Linden, a very enjoyable part to read actually. She hates Linden but she can't get him out of her mind, not for one instant. Maurynna is very direct with Linden when she finally sees him in a pitiful state and gets his attention right away. They make love for the first time, and Linden is unable to control Rathan's intense desire for their soultwin in such a weak state (though shouldn't Rathan be weak too, since they share the same body?). Despite the constant warnings of danger though, neither Linden nor Maurynna die . Again Rathan's instincts prove on the mark, and a very entertaining romantic scene ensues.

The lingering effects of this weakness from the poisoning lasts many days later as Linden's weakness pops up at the worst possible moments, debilitating him into uselessness during the climactic ending.

Really, Maurynna rescues Linden twice. I don't count running in on Althume and Linden during the torturous questioning as an actual rescue. Maurynna saves herself there more than Linden, since Linden was about the reveal the true identity of the fledgling. Maurynna does rescue Linden from the pathetic state of self-pity following the poisoning though, and then of course at the end when Maurynna's dragon soul fries the dragauth about devour Linden.

Linden is too weak to do much of anything and too stupid to root out any political scheming until the very end, and then only in one page all at once.

My other complaint: too many disjoint passages from a wide array of perspectives that didn't add or amount to much, from an older mage trying to protect the soultrap jewel early on, from Beryl, from Rann's nurse, and from Astlana. Many of the passages from Athlume's perspective aimed to make the book a page-turner, imparting a sense of impending doom. But some of them (2 or 3 paragraphs max) didn't really reveal anything and they don't add to the story all that much, other than to fragment the story.

I did enjoy Maylin's perspective, as feisty as she is, and they were significant since they were shared with Maurynna for the most part.

Again, an enjoyable read overall, primarily because its heart lies with Maurynna's characterization, to land the hero of her dreams, her true love, her soultwin, while at the same time coming to terms to her own dragonlord status.