Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The many faces of Hillary Clinton

So here we are late-February-early-March in 2008, and the Democratic party has yet to decide on their nominee for President of the United States of America. Despite the huge voter turnout in the Democratic party (compared the Republican side), I have to wonder at their chances of beating 71 year-old Arizona Senator John McCain. On the eve of the debate at Cleveland State between Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, both candidates have dialed up their scathing tone considerably. History has shown that whenever the Democratic party has been this divided over their candidates as this year, the party loses. Case in point: 1972, 1980 and finally, 1988, all consisting of protracted battles for Democratic delegates. The democratic nominee in each of those years lost in the subsequent general election. Also note that many states allow anyone (democratic, republican, independent) to vote in one of the primaries as in my state of Virginia. I suspect that the relatively high number of independents and republicans vote for Obama because the republican race has been over while the contentious Democratic nomination rages on. I gather many Republicans vote for Obama because they fervidly dislike Hillary more than they like Obama or like McCain.

Which brings me to the many faces of Hillary Clinton we've seen over the past couple of weeks.

Now as a disclaimer, I will say outright that I voted for Obama in the Virginia primary, I consider myself a fiscal conservative but a social liberal. I usually vote for the Democratic candidate in general elections because I dislike the religious overtones of many Republican candidates. No, I don't begrudge a candidate's faith, but I do begrudge that faith instituted in law and federal policies. I find it contradictory when Republicans talk about toning down federal government involvement and yet want to ban abortion and, as they call it, "preserve the sanctity of marriage," at the federal level. Mike Huckabee even called it changing the Constitution to reflect God's will, he used those words, I kid you not (Huckabee: "But I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God. And that's what we need to do -- to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view."). Never mind that divorces skyrocket year after year, Huckabee wants to ban same-sex marriage. Now I'm not for same-sex marriage, but I am against instituting a federal law that bans same-sex marriage under the guise of "preserving the sanctity of marriage." Faithfulness should be more important than banning certain groups of people from marrying legally. Which is why I'm glad McCain remains opposed to socially conservative principles enforced at the federal level. I do agree with Hillary when she says we have to stop George Bush's war on science, there's plenty of evidence of that, just ask the scientists across the country. G.W. Bush uses his faith to enforce policies.

If John McCain is the Republican nominee and Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee, it will represent the first year where I will be happy with either candidate despite their stark differences. Being a fiscal conservative and social liberal, I may even vote for McCain. McCain actually has a record of crossing party lines whereas Obama has stuck with his party on almost every vote (though Obama's voting record is short). I would definitely vote for McCain if Clinton is the Democratic nominee. I know many Clinton supporters have said that they'd vote for McCain if Obama is the nominee. Again lending credence to the fact that neither Democratic candidate can win the general election in a hotly-contested democratic nomination.

I sincerely hope I'm not being sexist, but as far as politicians go, I find Hillary Clinton the most disingenuous of the lot. I lived in New York State when Hillary Clinton exploited New York State's lax residential prerequisites to become its state senator. All because of her name recognition in one of the most liberal states in the country. Her move to New York State had less to do with New York State's interest than her own. Which would be fine if I didn't feel like her every vote and every public statement seemed so calculated. When the Republicans deftly blasted John Kerry's liberal voting record in the Senate during the 2004 presidential election, Hillary Clinton's votes moved decidedly more centrist. She voted for the war in Iraq because it had less to do in what she believed in or what was right for the country, but what she thought could advance her political career long-term. Looking towards a general election against the Republican candidate, her centrist votes could be viewed favorably and less susceptible to attack. It's no wonder that right-wing conservative talk show radio hosts such as Bill Cunningham from Cincinnati, OH, and Rush Limbaugh prefer Hillary Clinton to John McCain and Barack Obama.

Over the past couple of weeks, we've seen many faces from Hillary Clinton. On CNN's debate last Tuesday, I wasn't so moved by Hillary Clinton's closing remarks as some of the pundits. I found them fabricated to stave off the sting from her "change you can xerox" criticism of Obama's famed oratory. The audience booed her xerox comment and she closed the debate in a very conciliatory fashion, supposedly "honored" to be on the same stage as Barack Obama. I thought it was fake, and an obvious ruse to atone for her earlier comment which didn't go over very well. Then, we have Angry Hillary as she responds to Obama flyers (which are misleading, see factcheck.org) denouncing her views on NAFTA and criticizing her Health Care plan. These flyers have been out for weeks, so I have to wonder why she's so visibly angry about it now (Hillary: "Shame on you Barack Obama"). Then we have Sarcastic Hillary (and in my opinion, the worst) where she lambastes Obama for his optimism (Clinton: "Now, I could stand up here and say, 'Let's just get everybody together. Let's get unified. The sky will open. The light will come down. Celestial choirs will be singing, and everyone will know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect.'"). I think most people want to believe in optimism and hope, and I find this sarcastic side of Hillary very superficial. Not only does all this make her seem fake, but it makes her appear desperate after losing 11 Democratic contests in a row.

Let's see which face shows up tonight.

Monday, February 25, 2008

More erotica reviews

Diamond (Galaxy 03), by Michelle M. Pillow (****)

There exists three erotic stories in the Galaxy Playmate series (that I know of) though I found DIAMOND the best of the lot. Jane, whose stage name is Diamond, meets her childhood nemesis Liam Ferguson while traveling back to her home planet of Werten. Diamond wants to throw her fame and beauty in her brother's friend (Liam's) face after all these years, she wants to flaunt her beauty in Liam's face for teasing her when she was an awkward girl. After a very enjoyable reunion in which Diamond fails to recognize Liam in the space hunk body before her, Diamond soon learns of his true identity and seethes over repressed feelings for Liam as a little girl even when he used to tease her. This is a story about rediscovering a childhood love that never died and of course I'm always partial to those. The love scenes are very hot and the love resonated.

Forbidden Fruit,
by Caitlyn Willows (*)

This one is also about reigniting a childhood crush/love. Abby Strickland runs into her childhood crush Richard Braddock (a cop) at a wedding after many years. Richard has just divorced from his wife and seeing Richards after all these years makes Abby all hot and bothered. This story is written almost entirely from Abby's perspective and I found myself mostly bored with the end result. After a devastating prior relationship, her childhood crush fifty year-old Richard is johnny-on-the-spot. Although he's in top form as a cop, Richard's advanced age seems part of Abby's attraction. I wasn't moved by their "connection" in the least though I do give points to any erotica that mentions g-spot stimulation as this one does.

Claiming (Outlaw Lovers 2)
, by Jan Springer ()

This one obviously gets a zero because it's about a ritualistic "claiming" between multiple brothers and a woman. It wouldn't be so bad if the woman in question (Callie) wasn't married to one of the brothers (Luke). Luke gets off watching "his" woman claimed by his brothers at the same time. Supposedly, Callie and Luke "love" each other. Again, I wouldn't mind this so much if the author didn't disgustingly bring love and marriage into it. The story is obviously a woman's fantasy to have multiple hot men with huge erections nail her in multiple orifices and the farthest thing from a guy's mind during all this is "love." Yeah, I cannot imagine a guy sharing a woman he supposedly loves, and no, I'm not a prig about sex believe me. There's a reason why you won't see any stories where the woman supposedly gets off sharing the man she loves with other women. Again, I consider myself fairly liberal but something like love is so much more intense and fulfilling in a monogamous relationship (both emotionally and physically). And stories which manufacture love into multiple-men-single-woman scenes incite my rancor to no end. It's raw sex, so LEAVE LOVE OUT OF IT.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Erotica reviews

Anthology: A Faerie Tale, by Paige Burns, Jodi Lynn Copeland, Rae Monet, and Tiffany Aaron

RING OF FIRE (***), written by Paige Burns, begins this anthology on four faerie princesses forced to live on Earth (separately) and find love before their 28th birthday. All four of these stories are very readable, and they don't just portray how much the guy wants the girl but how much the girl wants the guy back (beyond the responsiveness). In RING OF FIRE, our nature faerie Damia meets scientist Mateo De'Acosta in a jungle where he's studying and measuring an active volcano. This qualifies as a very rare romance/erotica story where the guy isn't a notorious rake, but rather a studious research scientist. He's very attractive though and our libidinous faerie Damia directs her ample charms on Mateo. The passion is heated and the chemistry palpable. Towards the end, Damia's special faerie powers aid Mateo and his project on the volcano. Mateo, meanwhile, falls hard for Damia and both discover true love in each other's arms.

The second story features the faerie sister Albinia in Jodi Lynn Copeland's INTO THE ARCTIC (****). Some amusing twists to the common werewolf storyline make this tale an enjoyable and yet very passionate affair. Geologist Flinn Gregory is a were-penguin who is studying glacial tectonics at an outpost in the frozen tundra to save his imperiled species (were-penguins). Along with a couple guys, Albinia arrives at the post under the guise of a student named Erin finishing her masters in geophysics. Albinia coaxes Flinn to allow her to stay with him at his outpost to study glacial drifting while the two other guys (Lance and Rusty) move on. Albinia and Flinn enjoy a very heated passion and similar to the previous story, Albinia saves Flinn's life along with finding a means to salvage his race.

The third story showcases the the faerie of luck and fortune Nortia in Rae Monet's LUCK OF THE DRAW (**). The focus shifts here a bit to south France where Nortia uses her powers to win at slots in a casino called Ranger's Palace. Owned by Brice Ranger, Nortia's vast winnings compel Brice to investigate her. Passion takes over from there but this story lacked the fresh appeal from the prior two. It was also the most mundane in this anthology because unlike the volcano and penguins in the first two stories, LUCK OF THE DRAW lacked a compelling premise.

The final story, TIGER BY THE TAIL (***) by Tiffany Aaron, focuses on the final faerie sister Alida, the faerie of glamor manifested by her singing talent. Taking place in Australia, Cyno Wellington is a were-tiger, the very last Tasmanian Tiger in fact. Cyno attends one of Alida's concerts and of course he's mesmerized. The plotting here deals with Alida stalked by her Aussie manager Jason via anonymous threatening notes. Cyno and Alida's chemistry resonated in this one and the passion was definitely heated.

Anthology: Pleasure Raiders, by Katherine Kingston, Arianna Hart and Dawn Madigan

These three stories are about space pirates discovering love in a science fiction universe. The first story, CHECKMATE (**) by Katherine Kingston, is interesting to say the least. Written entirely from the heroine Devonne's perspective, Captain Dev crosses paths with her hero Raje. Both are pirates of a sort. Devonne and Raje share an early passion and later Devonne learns he's none other than Prince Reginald of Gambria. His uncle is the Grand Emperor. Devonne recoils feeling he used her for a short time. Circumstances land both Devonne and Raje in a bind with the Sangari government. The Sangari people enjoy exhibition and in order to escape charges, both Devonne and Raje must successfully perform various acts in front of a live audience. They involve combat, mazes, and of course, sex. One scene with another couple was especially memorable. In the end, the Sangari trials prove to Devonne that Raje really loves her.

The second story, Arianna Hart's CONCUBINE'S REVENGE (***), also represents the most heated and passionate. Space pirate Triona Fallon of the The Bunny's Revenge captures Captain Drake Cantor and his ship. Drake is Traminian where it's customary to own concubines as slaves. Triona was captured from her rural home and forced into the concubine slave trade on the planet when she was 16. A cruel Traminian master abused Triona for a two years before she finally escaped to engage in space piracy. Triona takes revenge on the captured Traminian Drake who offers sexual services in exchange for his freedom. Triona agrees and puts a collar around Drake controlled by a remote. The premise engages from the outset. Although Triona's treatment justifiably angers Drake in the beginning, I was rolling my eyes at Drake's lovesick introspection relatively early. He forgets about escape and instead he's emotionally enslaved by Triona too early. Both obviously discover true love in the ruse and the love scenes are hot.

The final story here, Dawn Madigan's CRASH COURSE (*), is weakest of the lot although the initial premise intrigues. Navy commander Blade Steele hounds captain of the Ambrosine pirate Chiliad-Kai Jayrt'ian. In an act of desperation, Chiliad orders his ship the Ambrosine to hyperleap without a functional navigational system. A smuggler and scoundrel, Chiliad prays he doesn't end up in the heart of a supernova. Our heroine is virginal Valasca ("Val") of an Amazon-like race of females who make their home on the planet Chebrri in uncharted territories. Val chances on Chiliad in the desert of her home planet and agrees to help him find fuel for his ship. An entertaining belligerent quality characterizes the early exchanges between our hero Chiliad and Val. Chiliad initiates Val to passion and it's first story which saves any oral until the very end.

London Falling, by Eve Vaughn (****)

A very short read, this is about our alien heroine London who falls for ordinary nice guy Matt Taylor. Ordinary nice guys who haven't had a myriad of nameless, faceless women are a rarity and Matt is exactly such a guy. Although he's dated plenty, women dump him because they find him cute, but lacking in enough sex appeal. Matt isn't bitter about it though, and he perseveres reasoning he isn't looking for a beauty queen just someone he could talk to and share his deepest thoughts with. Unfortunately, Matt only seems to attract abused women who want him to clean up the pieces. Meanwhile, London is a princess on another planet who refuses to marry the General. Instead, she falls on Earth in what looks to Matt in his telescope as a comet or falling meteorite. The story is sweet and although it doesn't contain the obligatory rakish hero, I thought it was very passionate.

Last Kiss
, by Dominique Adair (*)

In her mid to late 30s, Elaine Nichols decides to attend her millionaire friend Dirk Prentice's weekend party. Organized for sexual excursions, Elaine wants to have lots of sex before succumbing to her cancerous tumor which grows worse by the day. At Dirk's ostentatious castle, Elaine meets Count Alexei Romanov, a man whose very presence calls to her. Elaine has been having dreams of a mysterious man all of her life and she suspects Alexei may have some answers behind her dreams. As you might suspect, Alexei and Elaine cozy up and when Elaine's tumor catches up with her, Alexei reveals he's a vampire. Apparently, in prior lifetimes, Elaine has been with Alexei but Elaine tragically died. Hence, her fractured dreams. Determined t0 be with Elaine forever this time, Alexei explains their history and turns her into a vampire so they can finally be together. Why he didn't turn Elaine in one of her earlier reincarnations is beyond me. I wasn't moved by anything here: neither the premise nor Alexei and Elaine's "connection."

Friday, February 22, 2008

A Rose in Winter, by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss [1]

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

I had high hopes for A ROSE IN WINTER following the compelling American Civil War romance ASHES IN THE WIND (****). Unfortunately, the hero and heroine here, Erienne Fleming and Christopher Seton respectively, shattered my high hopes. Like ASHES IN THE WIND, Woodiwiss's prose and settings are strong but the characters, plotting and pacing here in A ROSE IN WINTER fell by the wayside in a predictable and disengaging manner. The novel takes place during 1792 England, a Georgian time period with all the social stratas and rogues/rakes from regency romances. I found this historical backdrop fairly routine and uninteresting. Lamentably, A ROSE IN WINTER took over a month to finish as my interest level waned the more I read. Inspired by the fairytale Beauty and the Beast, I disliked the predictable (and convenient) twist which made the Beast more than tolerable. I was frustrated by Erienne's air-headed naivete and bored by Christopher's rogue "charms" which offers nothing different from the myriad of other rakes in romance books.

I found Erienne childish, Christopher dull and the plotting dry and predictable. I thought the gist of the romance lacked merit and appeal; that is, the handsome Christopher struggling to convince Erienne to love him instead of her husband, the ugly and malformed Lord Saxton. Erienne's marriage vows appear a secondary concern to her pining attraction and response to the handsome Christopher. For example, after the Talbot ball, Christopher accosts her in the carriage ride back to Saxton Hall and Erienne responds very favorably to his kisses. Her review of the ordeal has more to do with her feelings for Christopher than potentially breaking marriage vows. Erienne is also very stupid. The identity of Lord Saxton is blatantly obvious from the moment we hear of him and yet Erienne doesn't learn of Saxton's true identity until Saxton himself reveals it. There exists a lot of evidence for her too. I found our rakish rogue, Christopher Seton, entirely ordinary for the romance genre, he doesn't possess a single distinctive quality. Many times he seemed like Superman: he's wealthy, titled, worldly, well-traveled, sexually experienced, tall, dark and handsome. Furthermore, he can deftly play cards, he's proficient at guns and deadly with swords. There's nothing to ground Christopher Seton, he seemed like a feminine concoction in beauty, power and brains (in that order through Erienne's eyes). The plotting was so insipid, I lost interest too many times. I'm trying to decipher the point of some of the vacuous plotting such as Christopher's protracted fight with Timmy Sears in a dockside bar and then traveling to London for parties, traveling back, going to a Talbot ball, etc. The romantic "tension" was anything but. I just didn't care for the "tension" which has Erienne struggling to maintain her marriage vows and easily falling prey to a handsome rake's advances side. Erienne never really accepts the malformed Lord Saxton, she's like a bimbo who pines for outward beauty above all else. The plot dealing with the Saxton family was too melodramatic while the ending stretched mercilessly. I thought KEW could have spiced up the second half by having Erienne discover the truth behind Saxton's identity herself and stage a circumstance which turns the tables on him. But alas, she's just a dumb bimbo throughout.

The Story, possible SPOILERS.

Affluent Yankee Christopher Seton owns many trading ships and he's the common flavor of tall, dark and very handsome. In a duel against Seton defending his insidious father's honor at a game of cards, Farrell Fleming loses feeling in his whole arm and consequently wallows in self-misery. Farrell's sister is none other than the beautiful Erienne Fleming, a girl who detests Seton for crippling her brother and forcing her father Avery Fleming to marry her to the highest bidder. After rejecting many potential husbands, all of them extreme cases of old, infirm and lewd, her father auctions her off. Seton offers but both Erienne and her father Avery reject Seton's proposal because they supposedly hate him. Erienne goes insofar to proclaim to the notorious rake Seton, "Were a twisted, scar-faced, hunchbacked cripple the only other man on earth, I would surely choose him over you!" I'm not so sure Avery's rejection is plausible, money always speaks louder than grudges for people like Avery Fleming. The mysterious and decrepit Lord Saxton purchases Erienne for his wife instead while also alleviating Avery Fleming of his vast debts. Despite respecting and honoring Erienne, Erienne cannot bear the awful and fearful sight of Lord Saxton. Even towards the end, Erienne cannot accept Lord Saxton because of his less-than-desirable appearance.

The story continues as the Saxton history comes to the forefront. Again, most of it is predictable and melodramatic nonsense. Seton flies around on black stallion with a black cape killing bandits and thieves as his legend grows. Even so, we have all these goons still pop up out of no where at the finale to wreak havoc. Nothing here at all.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Prince of Swords, by Anne Stuart [2]

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

After Stuart's thoroughly entertaining contemporary romance/suspense INTO THE FIRE (****), I was a bit disappointed by PRINCE OF SWORDS which takes place during regency England. This novel's hero Alistair MacAlpin, the sixth Earl of Glenshiel, demonstrates Anne Stuart's unparalleled knack for bad boys with a very dark edge. These aren't just pining good guys masquerading as garden-variety rakes, these really are bad boys and some of the things they think, say and do will put most romance-hero rakes to shame. Although Alistair's tortured-soul, bad-boy rake routine seemed a lot more convincing than most rake characterizations from romance books, Alistair's overwhelming state of ennui percolated my reading experience and I was actually bored by his boredom. Although I liked Alistair's dearth of morals and soulless characterization, I found myself bored by his womanizing ways, common flavor of tall, dark and handsome, wealth, title and his insouciant attitude towards life like a dilettante. Alistair just seemed like a spoiled 32 year-old baby, mad at society for exploiting his older brother's predilection to drinking and gaming. Although both are bad boys, Alistair lacked the intensity we find in INTO THE FIRE's Dillon. The prose here is better than most historical romances, the settings are above average, while the plotting/pacing below average to average. The plotting and pacing suffered from an overabundance of introspection/banter, switching to a secondary pairing (Robert Brennan and Jessamine's sister Fleur), a decided absence of any engaging events, and an anticlimactic finale. Fueled by Alistair's ennui, the characterizations seemed mostly bland and formulaic. I grew tired of Jessamine's insecurity mocking her lack of beauty both in her words and thoughts. I actually liked Robert Brennan and Fleur better than the main characters (Alistair and Jessamine).

Fleur finally moved. "[Brennan] told you to keep your hands off me," she said firmly. "Yes, I spent the night in his room last night, yes, I'm a slut and a whore. But I'm Brennan's whore."

The book obviously belongs to its bad boy Alistair MacAlpin and how he makes everyone else dance to his tune. Most chick-lit postures goody boys who undeservedly suffer a lot to be with their "feisty" (translation, bitchy) heroines. Anne Stuart however really puts her heroine through hell to save her bad boy's soul or to be with her hero. Alistair mercilessly exploits, abuses and discards Jessamine, and yet Jessamine continues to love him returning to him time and time again. Alistair obviously doesn't deserve Jessamine and he'll be first to tell you that, but somehow Jessamine strives to rescue his soul anyway. Most chick-lit has their heroes taking the first step in love, taking the first chance, fighting for their heroines and continuing to sacrifice at every turn thereafter. Not Anne Stuart. Her heroines are gluttons for punishment and it seems both Jessamine and Fleur here take gargantuan leaps of faith driven by their love for Alistair and Robert, respectively. In spite of it all, it was refreshing to see heroines fighting to be with their heroes for a change in historical romance.

Many elements of the plotting failed to engage while the pacing sagged. I found it too convenient for Alistair to learn of all the relevant characters and connections involved in the story at the outset via the eccentric Nicodemus Bottom. Alistair knows of Jessamine's connection with the iniquitous Bow Street runner Josiah Clegg which places Jessamine at a disadvantage with Alistair throughout. Alistair accurately views the other Bow Street runner Robert Brennan a scrupulous man. Alistair knows of Brennan's attraction to Jessamine's sister Fleur and uses that later at the party to occupy Brennan. Even though the book characterizes Brennan as a clever, strong man, Brennan was always a step behind. Even at the very end, Brennan falls for the same trick twice (Alistair diverts his attention elsewhere) and he just appears impotent overall. The alternating passages between Fleur and Jessamine before the love scene crippled the pacing. Interminable musings without anything happening grates my soul and these passages specialized in such musings. The party at Blaine Manor was pointless and Alistair taking Jessamine on a pilfering "adventure" seemed less of an adventure than an excursion on repetitious introspection and banter.

The Story.

Impoverished Lady Jessamine Maitland, her sister Fleur and their mother have fallen on hard times after her father debauched the family inheritance. Twenty-three year-old virgin Jessamine, decked out in plain gray garb and not nearly as pretty as her younger eighteen year-old sister Fleur, single-handedly sustains her family through her Tarot card reading talents. A gypsy tutors Jessamine on the arcane arts of card reading and warns that should she ever lose her virginity, her card-reading talents will also disappear. Jessamine's unique card-reading talents aid the wicked Bow Street runner Josiah Clegg to apprehend criminals. Jessamine is saving to help finance her beautiful younger sister's coming-out thereby ensnaring a wealthy gentleman who will secure their family's future.

Notoriously dubbed the "Cat," the sixth Earl of Glenshiel (Alistair) finds a solution to his boredom by stealing from the sinfully rich and prosperous. Tall, dark and handsome, a lewd rake, and exhibiting the common "alpha" traits, Alistair espies Jessamine at a party (he's just stolen some jewels). Jessamine entertains the guests via her card-reading talents. Alistair is immediately attracted to Jessamine and doggedly pursues her for sex. He even makes it clear to her that he wishes to deflower her and then abandon her.

Things slowly progress at a party in Blaine Manor attended by all the characters: Jessamine, Alistair, Jessamine's sister Fleur, Robert Brennan and Josiah Clegg. Nothing much happens except Alistair's continued mission to deflower and ruin Jessamine. Alistair knows Jessamine is in collusion with Clegg and endeavors to give her reasons not divulge his secret identity as the notorious "Cat." Robert Brennan and Josiah Clegg both are after the "Cat" and Clegg pressures Jessamine to divine the Cat's identity from the cards. Jess waits and waits all the while subconsciously knowing the Cat's identity.

I found the ending with one final heist involving the crown jewels very rushed and anticlimactic. Despite Jessamine's love and devotion, it takes a lot for Alistair to finally come to grips with his love for her. But such are Anne Stuart's bad boys, they don't make it easy.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Lady of Sin, by Madeline Hunter [1]

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

Only those moments featuring the mystery plot with the orphaned boy Harry engaged my interest in LADY OF SIN. The rest of this book contained way too much repetitive introspection and inane thoughts mixed in with the "romantic" exchanges that quickly evaporated my attention span. More than ever, I noticed endless paragraphs of insipid, meandering introspection interspersed between the conversation. I often lost the thread of both the thoughts and the conversation and I didn't care to pick up either of them actually. The romance was lackluster, the pacing awfully slooooooow, the plotting (regarding an orphaned boy's parentage) too sparse, Charlotte too selfish and shallow, and Nathaniel too weak and forgettable. Charlotte really doesn't have a leg to stand on, her self-serving interests aim to preserve her social status and her family's social status in British aristocracy at the expense of an orphaned boy's potential birthright (who lived in poverty). As many times as the book would have us believe Nathaniel an "honorable" man, it's really too easy him to sever the orphaned boy from his birthright or to forget justice for murder (the boy's mother) all in exchange for sex with Charlotte. As much as the book would likes to describe the depths of the emotional connection between Charlotte and Nathaniel (same idea repeated using different words over and over), it still just seemed like meaningless sex (nothing wrong with that really). The sex scenes suffered from all the repetitive introspective musings that forced an emotional connection between the h/h. Extraneous events continued from prior books (THE SINNER, THE ROMANTIC) plague this one such as the birth of Dante's child and Pen's wedding. Seeing Pen and Julian finally wed was actually nice, though would have been much nicer to see it through Pen or Julian's eyes. I kept wanting to see Adrian Burchard from THE CHARMER, but alas, he isn't part of the Duclairc family. I disliked the resolution of this novel too: I found it too tidy while selfishly skewed towards Charlotte's interests. I don't feel Nathaniel did enough to prove (or disprove) the orphaned boy's possible legitimacy.

Who does this book belong to? Definitely Charlotte, because although Nathaniel begins the investigation, he bows out early and often because of the sex with Charlotte. It's Charlotte who compels Nathaniel to see it through. The Lady of Sin title seemed a misnomer though, she's pretty bland and the one night of scandalous sex she has occurs prior to this book. She's a lady that values her social status above truth, justice or honor. So in that way, I suppose she's sinful, but not in the promiscuous sense.

This book likes to keep telling its readers how things are instead of showing us. The book likes to keep telling us Charlotte and Nathaniel hate each other when every indication in this book seems contrary to these assertions. The book likes to tell us Charlotte and Nathaniel share a deep, emotional connection (again and again in many different words) but again I found no emotional link between the two. The book likes to tell us how clever Charlotte is but some of the things she deduces has less to do with brilliance and more to do with common sense. The book likes to tell us how honorable Nathaniel is and how he pursues truth and justice but I found all of his actions in this book contradictory to this characterization.

Why does Nathaniel wish to abandon his quest for the truth behind the boy Harry's parentage after sex with Charlotte? He's really a weak character, and no, it doesn't show that he somehow "loves" Charlotte because he's willing to abandon the truth after what the book tell us is an emotional and physical high with Charlotte. It shows he's fickle, he lets his groin guide him, and that he's completely whipped. It should be about right and wrong, but instead he's willing to accommodate Charlotte (he spent the night giving Charlotte pleasure) because uncovering a secret behind Harry's true parentage would uproot Charlotte's family. Doesn't he care about the truth or doing the right thing? After a village shows no sign of the woman Jenny (who knows more about the boy), he has a "spry" step and he's happy that there's no sign of the woman who could tell them more about the boy Harry! Oh my god, please, if he wasn't remotely whipped before, he is now. He's wants to accommodate Charlotte's wishes after she allows him to pleasure her all night, and he wants to retreat from the truth or flee from doing the right thing in exchange for sex with Charlotte (because any potential truth could create a chasm between Nathaniel and Charlotte). Later, when Charlotte discovers the full truth, Nathaniel offers Charlotte comfort and pleasure and resolves to never speak of it again (because it upset Charlotte so much). Was the sex good enough to deny a boy his true birthright or to dig deeper behind it? Nathaniel's consistent answer to all their roadblocks: oh yeah, let's just have more sex, push off the difficult choices for later! I don't view any of these cowering retreats from truth and justice in Nathaniel as noble, and they're bartered with sex from Charlotte. Look at STEALING HEAVEN's Marcus: he found a way to be with Nesta and avoid open rebellion from the Welsh. Marcus and Nesta's contradicting wishes and their mutual passion didn't effeminate Marcus like it does LADY OF SIN's Nathaniel.

Charlotte is one annoying, shallow, selfish, snide heroine. There isn't a single quality -- with the possible exception of appearance -- to recommend her. And not really appearance either because she's "ethereal" through Nathaniel's eyes while Nathaniel is "handsome" through her eyes (over and over). Don't you love how romance heroes are so deep while their heroine counterparts fairly single-minded over height, muscles and handsome appearance? LADY OF SIN reminded me again of this ploy in the romance genre; that is, making the heroes deep and above appearances while the heroines very superficial. Charlotte wishes to protect her family from what she perceives are "scandalous lies" despite the possible authenticity of the "lies." She spurns any truth that would denigrate her reputation and her family's reputation. In fact, she's proud that amongst her family (her two brothers, and her older sister Penelope from THE ROMANTIC), only she is invited to all of the esteemed social circles. Amongst her family, she notes only her name and reputation maintains high standards for self-righteousness and eludes social censure. She values social status over truth or doing the right thing. When evidence finally indicates a legitimate and as yet unknown heir (not Ambrose the child she loves), Charlotte grieves that her life will be ruined. Cry some more, Charlotte? What, will she have to live in poverty? Will the child she loves (Ambrose) not know a comfortable life? None of this, she's genuinely more concerned about her social status and her family's social status than the truth and bestowing another child his rightful inheritance. Another child (Harry / Jose / Joseph) that has only known strife, poverty and hardship. Another child that has no family or real home. And here is our heroine Charlotte only concerned about herself. She even considers whoring herself to Nathaniel to ensure his silence, which she essentially does anyway since Nathaniel is so whipped he's willing to deny a boy's birthright in exchange for sex with Charlotte. Charlotte's "ghosts from the past" after she (and we as the reader) discover the full truth are lame and the very fact that she struggles with them unwarranted.

The emotional melodrama Charlotte suffers over the potential loss of her happiness if another child earns his rightful title and inheritance was beyond absurd and very frustrating to read. Not like she's been living a joyful and fulfilling life all this time because if that were the case, she would not have ventured to an orgy party (off-screen and prior to LADY OF SIN). Nathaniel was too eager to abandon his quest for the truth after sex with Charlotte.

All in all, poor characterizations, subpar plotting and pacing and below average prose. The best part of this novel? The preview to THE RULES OF SEDUCTION (*****), which I'll have to read again at some point.

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Romantic, by Madeline Hunter [4]

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

1. The Seducer (**)
2. The Saint (*)
3. The Charmer (****)
4. The Sinner (SKIP)
5. The Romantic (****)

Madeline Hunter's dark, strong and silent heroes continue to enthrall in the final installment in this series on the Dueling Society. Unlike THE CHARMER (which belonged to its heroine), this novel thoroughly belongs to its tall, dark, handsome and silent hero who is a romantic at heart: Julian Hampton. A solicitor by profession and lacking the title and wealth of other romance heroes, Julian Hampton's pithy and succinct eloquence shields a poetic, romantic heart that yearns for the woman he's loved since he was a youth. From the amusing letters he's conjuring to write to the happily-married ladies who thrust eligible ladies at him, Julian exudes a sly sense of humor. The eligible ladies fail to excite him however because for all of his teenage and adult life, Julian Hampton's heart surreptitiously aches for Penelope, the notorious Countess of Glasbury and Viscount Leclere's sister (from THE SAINT). THE SEDUCER and THE SAINT builds the foundation for Julian and Penelope's story here in THE ROMANTIC. Although THE CHARMER features the best historical backdrop, THE ROMANTIC contains the strongest plotting and pacing of the series, engaging me and surprising me even as I predicted other elements. There's suspense, adventure, murder, a trial, whodunit mystery, and of course, romance and passion. I was thankful that even though Julian yearns for Penelope his whole life, the book avoids the copious pining and repetitive introspection which would take away from his character. One thing you have to love about Madeline Hunter's characters and stories: her stories offer more historical backdrop and plotting than the average romance book while her characters are doing something beyond seeking and having sex. Here, Penelope is very proud of authoring a piece on married womens' rights.

THE ROMANTIC is probably the darkest book in the series as well. Penelope isn't a virgin and she's married: separated from her husband, the earl of Glasbury, who engages in sordid sexual activity including BDSM. Penelope's notorious reputation, Julian's angst over Pen's affairs following her separation with the earl, Pen and Julian's advanced age (both are 'old' for romance stories) and the reprobate earl's insidious designs all make for a dark read. I found some of the early, seductive interaction between Julian and Penelope a bit jarring. I think the book tried to build chemistry by making Pen feel for Julian early but it didn't seem to fit. For instance, after returning from Naples and faced with the terror of returning to the depraved earl, Julian comforts Pen in his strong but silent manner with a hand-to-hand touch or a squeeze on her shoulder. These subtle touches sends shivers of anticipation through Pen, and it didn't fit after all these years. This is the first time she's noticing Julian in such a manner? Why, all of a sudden now, I mean she's known Julian her whole life, right? Sleeping next to Julian's room and taking a bath in Julian's cottage all seem to force the sensuality between the two too early as Pen enjoys the delicious seduction. Still, I enjoyed Julian's angry reaction to Pen's list of potential conspirators in a public affair to force the earl to divorce her. She leaves out Julian as a potential candidate, and he's furious.

Another thing you have to love about Madeline Hunter's stories: both the hero and heroine end up giving to each other in love. The giving and loving is mutual. As much as Julian protects and loves Pen his whole life, Pen helps him and takes care of him at the end. You could tell she's really awed by the depth of his love and loves him in kind. She did seem too ignorant of the depth of his love though, always making excuses for his loyal protection and love earlier. When she still couldn't surmise the recipient of Julian's unsent love letters during the trial at the end, her ignorance started to grate. However, Pen's ignorance added to the drama and tension in the plotting. I would have hoped the book made Pen's ignorance of Julian's profound love deliberate on her part. Like she knew subconsciously the depths of Julian's love for her but couldn't face it because she felt she was unworthy or she was afraid to believe in it. Alas, there's no such admission, she simply says she had no idea and that she's honored by Julian's lifelong love for her. Despite her persistent ignorance, I did feel Pen deserved Julian. It's clear Pen is very compassionate always abandoning her interests for the sake of others'. Pen says she married Anthony because he was an earl and she was young and stupid but that wasn't the complete picture. I couldn't abide Pen marrying the earl in the first place, but then we learn financial straits handicapped Pen's family during her first season. The earl of Glasbury's generous offer compelled Pen to accept and she later convinced herself that it was her fault. Then after separation, she avoided outright confrontation with the earl because she wants to shelter her family from scandal as much as possible. Yes, I think Pen is very deserving of Julian's undying love and devotion. I could understand Julian's love for Pen since they grew up together and Julian witnessed first-hand Pen's compassion serving as her family's solicitor.

The Story, possible SPOILERS.

After a comfortable separation between the earl and countess of Glasbury lasting many years, the earl desires to sire an heir off the countess, Penelope. The reasons which previously checked the cruel earl's hand no longer matter seem to matter to him, and he demands his conjugal rights as a husband and master of his wife. The earl is, after all, well into his 40s while the countess Penelope well into her 30s. The earl harbors a cruel streak in sex as he enjoys inflicting pain and subordinating his sexual partners. A virginal Penelope didn't know any better at the beginning of her marriage, and finally flees after witnessing the earl's horrible treatment of another child. She divulges the worst to her friend and solicitor Julian Hampton. We know from THE SEDUCER that Hampton secured a permanent separation for Penelope by threatening to reveal the worst of the earl's twisted pleasures. Now, years later, the earl wants her back to sire an heir and no revelations of his sordid depravities will check him. English law bestows all the rights in marriage to the husband, especially an aristocrat, and Penelope has no choice but to run for her life.

Penelope runs straight to Julian Hampton like she did before and Julian promises to protect her from the earl. They retreat to Julian's rustic cottage but eventually the earl discovers Penelope's whereabouts. They again flee, this time to meet the one witness who could convince society that the earl has wronged Penelope. When they find the witness deceased, Penelope feels she has no choice but to flee the country and travel to America. Julian eventually convinces her to face the problem head-on and make a choice for herself instead of trying to protect her friends and family. Both decide to engage in a very public affair of convenience, hoping to incite the earl to file for divorce.

The story grows and evolves with twists and turns, getting stronger the more you read it. Pen's strife to escape the earl meshes with her burgeoning feelings for Julian. In the end, the varying elements of suspense, mystery, love and passion manage to entertain and engage.