Shades of Gray by Maya Banks

Shades of Gray by Maya Banks

Shades of Gray by Maya Banks

It’s been over a year since I last posted.  I’ve been working two jobs and, what can I say, I’m usually exhausted!   I also haven’t been reading much.  But over New Years, I had an opportunity to read Shades of Gray by Maya Banks, a contemporary romance and Book 7 in her KGI series.  (KGI stands for Kelly Group International, a super-elite, top-secret, private military contractor.) I looked forward to reading this book for a while, having pre-ordered it for my Kindle.

I was excited because it wouldn’t feature someone with paranormal abilities. I have not enjoyed the paranormal aspects introduced in later books (I think book 4). The paranormal wouldn’t have bothered me if had been part of the series from the beginning. However, it was introduced later and, for me, has been a dumb, clunky, distracting, and unnecessary addition.

The two main characters P.J. and Cole have been in the books from the beginning.  They are teammates and sharpshooting rivals, and P.J. has been established as the better shot.  I like P.J. and Cole and they work really well as a couple. They have a passionate encounter at the beginning of the book.  I could never have guessed the direction that Maya Banks would take her character.

I love Maya Banks but I have some real problems with this book. I was so upset I posted a version of this review on Amazon.com.  Much shorter than this.  I am very surprised that so few people are troubled by what happened in the book.  I am definitely a minority opinion.  STOP reading if you don’t want to know more.  SPOILER ALERT!!!!

My problem with the book is the rape of P.J. I have two issues with the rape: the rape itself and the reason the rape occurred. P.J.’s vengeance is also extremely disturbing. I’ll be the first to admit, I usually avoid romance books were the heroine is raped. I’ve posted this in the past.  I don’t want to read violent assaults in romance books.  I always cry. I always get nauseous.  Always. If I had known that this would occur I wouldn’t have pre-ordered the book. That said, I didn’t know it was going to occur and I once I’m invested in the characters, I finish the book.

First, the rape. I don’t know how to eloquently say this, so I’ll just be direct. The rape of P.J. is brutal. I’m not sure what the purpose of having her be drugged, raped by two men, and sliced up and permanently disfigured after one carved her up with a knife adds to the story. We already know how terrible the bad guys are. They are children sex traffickers.

Another problem is the reason the rape occurred. Throughout this series, it has been established how professional, responsible, and SMART the KGI organization is. But for this mission, Donovan and Steele are extremely stupid about how it was planned.

Basically, P.J. goes undercover. She arrives at a party with the purpose of luring a bad guy to a hotel room. KGI will be in the next hotel room to make sure nothing goes wrong. She does her job, but there’s no one in the next hotel room – because they are stuck in traffic due to a car accident. Traffic! REALLY?! (My translation: stuck in traffic = lazy writing) No one thought it would be a good idea to have at least ONE person set up IN ADVANCE at the hotel? All these military geniuses thought it was a good idea to follow P.J. from the party to the hotel, and setup the room AFTER P.J. was in the next room? So, of course, there was no one at the hotel to assist and/or follow P.J. when she was forced to leave the hotel (without her tracking devices) and go to a different location. While she doesn’t have her tracking devices, she has listening devices so the entire team can hear her being sexually assaulted.  So, basically, P.J.’s brutalized because Donovan and Steele are morons.

Maybe the brutality of the attack is to give credence for P.J.’s vengeance later in the book. Personally, I think therapy would have been much more helpful than her murdering four men in cold blood (the two men who raped her and the other two men in the room who did nothing to stop it). And I’m not exaggerating – she murders them.  She takes a knife and carves a couple of them up.  She slices another’s throat.  I’ve never read a romance book where any character – hero or heroine – does anything as violent as what she does in retribution.

I’ve read reviews that say that this shows she’s a strong character.  I’m not sure how this shows strength.  To me, it’s psychopathic.  I’m not saying she isn’t justified in wanting them dead. But boy, was it gruesome.

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Disappointed in Lastest Historicals

Stolen Kisses

As I stated in my last post, I’ve found the last few historicals I’ve read lacking.   Some of my favorite authors have recently published:  Joanna Bourne, Elizabeth Hoyt,  Candace Camp, and Anne Mallory.  None of these books are bad; they just didn’t resonate with me.  And yes, I’m very well aware that a lacking Joanna Bourne book is sooo much better than most.  Actually, regarding hers, I should never have reread The Forbidden Rose so close to release of The Black HawkThe Forbidden Rose is brilliant, and one of my all-time favorites.  I’ll reread The Black Hawk later.  As for the other authors, they may not be Joanna’s class, but they are accomplished.

But there’s been some real clunkers:

However, some of these “clunkers” have gotten positive reviews.  What am I missing?!

I got so bored this past month that Diana Rowland’s My Life as A White Trash Zombie was a better choice.  (The resurgence of zombie popularity boggles the mind.)  I’ve read Diana Rowland’s Kara Gillian books, but believe me when I say that a book with a zombie heroine isn’t my first choice in reading material no matter how much I like the author.  But I was desperate.

So it was with great interest and pleasure that I read Melanie’s interview with Carla Kelly. I love Carla Kelly.  Her books are consistently good.  (Read my review on Beau Crusoe.) It was while reading this interview where I figured out why I’ve been disgruntled these past few weeks with the historicals I’ve read.  Ms. Kelly’s was explaining the difference between a traditional regency and a historical set in regency time:

Bluntly, the only difference I can see is that “trads” are shorter and rely on wit and good writing, and “historicals” rely on sexier doings. I prefer the trads, and apparently, many readers do, too.

And that, dear reader, is the truth.  Good writing. Less “sexier doings”.   I’m tired of reading those because they’ve become b-o-r-i-n-g and not very romantic. Carla Kelly writes romantic love scenes, but they are not explicit.  Actually they are more personal and tender than most of the scenes that go on in detail for pages upon pages.

Another thing I’m tired of is heroines with 21st century sensibilities set in past centuries.  If I wanted a romance set in modern times, with a modern heroine, I’d pick up a contemporary romance.  A clever author can show how a strong woman succeeded with the constraints she had; a lazy author takes the 21st woman and dumps her in a historical storyline.  And it seems like that’s the norm, and it repetitious.  And repetition is b-o-r-i-n-g.  Carla Kelly’s heroines are admirable women who behave like one would expect.  This isn’t a negative.  It’s real, and much more interesting to see how they will respond to societal limitations.

I could go on about how when all the men are rakes, none of them are very interesting.  But I’ll save that for another time.

I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving.  Safe travels!

Steampunk Romance

Okay, I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately. I haven’t really liked any of the historicals that I’ve read. Not that they’ve been terrible, but there’s nothing about them which has inspired me to write about them. They’ve all been pretty much the same.  Nothing special.  Nothing unique.

So, I’ve decided to talk about an emerging romantic genre that I started reading last year – steampunk romance.

Yes – steampunk romance.

What is it? Well, steampunk is science fiction sub-genre, often set in Victorian England or the American West, which creates an alternative history using steam-based technology and clockwork powered automata.  So add romance, and voilà: steampunk romance!

And if you’re thinking to yourself – ummmm, okay… Need a better visual?   Try this. Remember the oddity that was Will Smith’s movie Wild Wild West? How about the 90’s tv show The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr ? Each incorporated elements of steampunk.

The Iron Duke

I was introduced to steampunk romance when reading Burning Up, a paranormal anthology featuring two exceptional paranormal romance authors: Nalini Singh and Meljean Brook. I absolutely adore Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling series and Meljean Brook’s The Guardians.

I assumed that Meljean’s offering would be about the Guardians, but no. Her short story introduced a series called The Iron Seas. Most of the time, a new series by an author is exciting. But to be honest, I was so confused when I started reading her story. I didn’t know WTH was going on. But since I really enjoy her writing, I decided to investigate further rather than setting it aside in a huff.

Fortunately, Meljean explains her steampunk vision and educates the uninformed (i.e. me) in this Q&A.

Heart of Steel

Steampunk is different.  It’s odd.  But Meljean Brook has created an intriguing world.

The Iron Series, an introduction:

The Mongol Horde invades the East and the West, brutally expanding their territory until being stopped at the Hapsburg Wall by machines designed by Leonardo da Vinci.

Decades pass.

Da Vinci dies.

The Horde invent nanoagents that can either (A) control a population or (B) alter the population.

Alter, as in make zombies…  yes… z-o-m-b-i-e-s…

Unfortunately for Europe and Africa, the Horde decides that plan B is the way to go.

Zombies are unleashed. And – surprise! – it turns out, zombies aren’t going to make the Horde’s “that was a great idea” list. Now most of Europe and Africa are infested with the undead, making these places a zombie wasteland.

For some reason, even though the Horde are horrible, England continues to trade with them. (Got to have sugar and tea!) Turns out to be a big mistake since the Horde infect the sugar and tea with nanoagents. After nanoagent ingestion, the English citizenry fall under Horde control and England remains in their control for about two centuries.

The Iron Seas series begins…

Thanks to the bravery and audacity of the Iron Duke, Rhys Trahaearn, England is freed of Horde control. He’s a national hero, but Rhys has enemies. Someone drops a dead body on his doorstep and Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth investigates.

Rhys is immediately intrigued and attracted to Mina, but she resists his attentions. She needs to focus on the investigation and becoming entangled with the Duke, while tempting, is a distraction to duty.

Mina’s family is aristocratic; however her life isn’t carefree. Mina was conceived during a Horde frenzy, and her Horde features make her a constant target for scorn and abuse. In fact, her mother is infamous as the woman who blinded herself when she viewed her infant daughter for the first time.

I really liked how the relationship developed between the Iron Duke and Mina, and I enjoyed the story. Meljean Brooks creates an intricate world that is fascinating.

The Iron Seasis an excellent series which I strongly recommend. I’m still undecided about steampunk genre as a whole, but if Meljean Brook writes it, I’m going to read it.

If you want to read the series, this is the order as of November 2011.  If you click on the links, they will take you to Amazon.com’s website.

  1. The Blushing Bounder” from Wild & Steamy (short story is currently free for e-readers. subject to change.)
  2. Here There Be Monsters” from Burning Up (published first, but second in the series)
  3. The Iron Duke
  4. Heart of Steel

Review: His Mistress by Christmas by Victoria Alexander

Is there an author that you really enjoy reading, are excited for their next book,  they write a good book, and you’re still a bit disappointed?  That’s my dilemma with Victoria Alexander’s new book, His Mistress by Christmas.  This is book 4 in the Harrington series.  I’ve really enjoyed this Victorian series, and I enjoyed the book.  There was nothing wrong with it, but I think it could have been better.

It could have been something more.

Yes, I know, that’s vague.

The plot is straight forward.  Widowed woman decides she wants a lover, not a husband, and sets her sights on the cousin of one of her best friends.  This confirmed bachelor decides he wants a wife, not a mistress, and sets his sights on the lovely widow.  Veronica, Lady Smithson, sets out to seduce him and Sir Sebastian, for once in his life, is determined to be upstanding.   He tells his sisters he’s going to marry Veronica by Christmas before asking for her hand.  Unfortunately, for him, she turns him down.  They compromise on their relationship, at least for the time being.

Sebastian invites Veronica to his country estate to celebrate the season, just the two of them, and where they can start their affair.  Unfortunately for them, his sisters and family are very excited to meet the new wife.

Thus begins a comedy of errors.  His family descends on his estate.  A couple here, a few there..  All of a sudden the holiday is no longer a quiet affair.

Pun intended.

Some of the family are made aware that they aren’t married.  The ones not aware are VERY excited about the marriage.  Then Veronica’s family descends after hearing about the marriage through the grapevine.  (This whole scenario was like a game of telephone.) There’s some scandal about Sebastian’s inheritance, which seemed tacked on to be used to momentarily break the couple up.

For me, the best part of the book was Veronica deciding that being a “mistress” wasn’t what she wanted (technically one can’t be a mistress to a single man).  What Veronica thought being a mistress would be like, and the actuality of being a mistress turned out to be two very different things.  And, truthfully, she’s never Sebastian’s mistress.  I enjoyed her journey of discovery of what she really desired.

So why am I a bit let down after reading it? I don’t know.  I liked it.  I recommend it, but don’t shell out $20 for the hardcover.  Wait until it’s released in paperback or pick it up at the used bookstore or get it from the library.

Website redesign

I want to warn everyone that my website will be undergoing some changes over the next few weeks. I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while, and it’s now time to implement. Unfortunately, you’ll get to see all the bumps in the road since the site is hosted by WordPress. I can’t work offline and implement. You’ll see it all! Sorry for any inconvenience. Thanks for the patience!

Review: Beau Crusoe by Carla Kelly

One of things that I appreciate most about Carla Kelly is that her characters are from the time period where her stories are set.  Many times, authors write “modern” characters and set them in the past.  And while that’s okay, it’s enjoyable to read a romance where the reactions of the characters are fitting for the time period.

Another interesting choice is the story is told, for the most part, from the hero’s point of view.   Romances are rarely told from a man’s perspective but the choice really works in this case.

Lieutenant James Trevenen, first mate of His Majesty’s Orion, is shipwrecked and stranded alone on a desert island for five years, and while he survives and is rescued, he remains traumatized by his experience.  His only companions on the island were the Gloriosa Jubilate, an unknown crab species, which he studied in depthly. Upon his rescue and return to England, he’s hailed a hero, a label which makes him very uncomfortable.  When the paper he’s written about the Gloriosa Jubilate is showered with accolades and acclaim, he doesn’t feel worthy of the honor. He’s haunted by his time on the island, and what he had to do to survive. (The actions after the shipwreck, while not a complete surprise, are still horrifying. However, when it’s disclosed what actually happened on the island,  that was unexpected and traumatic.)

Susannah Park has been out of Society for years; when she was young, she followed her heart and married a man not of Society, causing quite a scandal.  Now a widow, raising a small son, she lives a quiet existence with her family.

I loved the relationship that developed between James and Susannah.  The attraction and friendship between the two is very real and adult.  Neither of them is perfect; they recognize their own faults, in themselves and each other.  They are good for each other; James is good for Susannah’s son.  James and Susannah’s personalities complement each other.  Neither of them has an extreme personality one way or the other.  It’s the fact that they see certain qualities in the other that they can draw from.

This is not a steamy book, so if you are looking for pages and pages of steam, keep on going.  But this is a romantic book, and I loved it.

Vacation Reading

I’ve been vacationing the past three weeks, and you’d think I’d have read a bunch of stuff during this time. Unfortunately, I only read one book, but boy, was it great.  Carla Kelly’s Beau Crusoe was fantastic!  I got it for the Kindle, and thoroughly, utterly enjoyed it.

I’m definitely reviewing this in an upcoming post.

Review: The Secret Mistress by Mary Balogh

Delightful.

That’s the first word that springs to mind when I think about Mary Balogh’s The Secret Mistress.

Lovely.

Romantic.

Humorous.

Those are other words I think of.

The books that I enjoy the most, and the ones that I will go back and read over and over again, are usually those that are able to weave humor into the story.  The Secret Mistress is a prequel book to the Mistress duology that Ms. Balogh wrote ten years ago.   I read them at the time, but don’t recall humor as being prevalent in the books.  (Though I do remember that I enjoyed More than a Mistress much more than the second book in the series. )  So I certainly wasn’t expecting to find a lot of humor in this book.

There are few romance writers that write humor well; Mary Balogh is one of them (see The Famous Heroine and Lady with a Black Umbrella).  (Loretta Chase is another standout.)  If humor is used, it involves secondary characters but rarely are the hero or heroine humorous.  Yes, they usually have wit.  In many cases, it is a “biting” wit, but true humor is not common.   Maybe because it could make the lead characters seem foolish.  And in a lesser writers hand, it might.  Fortunately, there is Mary Balogh.

Our heroine, Angeline, is an exuberant, extremely wealthy debutante, and the sister of the Duke of Tresham (a notorious rake, of course), and a young woman prone to exaggeration and whose fashion choices are so unique and daringly colorful to belong to a classification all her own.  She’s also the most sought after heiress of the season.

Edward Aisley, Earl of Heyward, is the younger son, who unexpectedly inherited the title and responsibility.  He is not known for his daring, exuberance or extravagance.  He is noted for being sober and a bit dull.  He’s neither too plain or too handsome.  For all ton purposes, he’s ordinary. (As ordinary as an EARL can be.)

But for Angeline, Edward’s perfect.  From the first, she knew he was what she was looking for, that Edward was what she desired and needed in a husband. All of her life, from her father to her brothers to their friends, all the men she has known have been wild, reckless, exciting.  For the most part, she finds them silly.  Having lived with wildness, she desires stability.  She wants a gentleman.  A true, by the book, gentleman who follows the rules.  At their initial meeting, Edward followed the rules about interacting with her after she got herself into a bit of a situation.  Her father and her brothers would never have followed convention.  They took satisfaction in breaking any and all rules that they could. For her, it was love at first sight.  Angeline didn’t fight her feelings; she embraced them and prayed Edward would do the same.

For Edward though, his feelings for Angeline is something he struggles with.  He thinks her the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen, and he fights his feelings and desires.  She’s flighty.  She draws attention to herself.  Angeline is not the woman that he thought he would spend the rest of his life with. She’s not comfortable.  His attraction for her causes him much turmoil.  Another strike against her – she’s the sister of the Duke of Tresham, the man he holds responsible for the death of Edward’s older brother.

There are many scenes throughout that I really enjoyed, but the following two are my favorites:

  1. When Edward advises Angeline that it’s “better to be a leader of fashion rather than an habitual follower” even if no one follows her lead, it was clear that Edward was able to see beyond the superficial and understand the insecurities that drove Angeline to make the choices that she did.  She wears bold colors and elaborate headgear because it makes her feel confident, special, attention-worthy.
  2. The other is when Edward and Angeline decide to keep the deep love they feel towards each other private, even after they marry.  I can’t think of another romance where the hero and heroine decide to keep their true love a secret from everyone.  To the world, to their family, they would present a conventional ton marriage. Only in private would the depth of their feelings for each other be revealed.  Only in private would Angeline address him as Edward.  In public, he was Heyward.  Hence the title, The Secret Mistress.

Humor is prevalent throughout the story, and I appreciate that, as characters, Angeline and Edward are not played for laughs, since a fashion-challenged woman and a conventional man, could easily been mocked. Another reason Mary Balogh is in a class of her own.  She’s skilled.

The Secret Mistress is one of the most romantic books that I’ve read in a long time, and definitely one I classify as a “keeper”.

Sincere Apologies!

It’s been 9 months since my last post.  You might have thought that I dropped off the face of the earth.  In fact, it’s hard for me to believe so much time has passed.   I never meant to abruptly stop my blog, but life sometimes throws unexpected curve balls.  I’m not going to detail why I stopped.  I’m a firm believer that some things are private.  Unfortunately, Regency Era had to suffer.  I should have posted saying I needed to take break, but I didn’t, and I sincerely apologize to anyone who wondered what happened or was worried.

I can honestly say that today’s post is the first time I’ve been back since last year, and I’m looking forward to updating the blog with the TONS of books that have been released in the interim.  Mary Balogh’s new book, The Secret Mistress, came out and that’s definitely one I’m going to review!

How is this possible?!

I can’t believe it’s almost the middle of November and I’ve neglected my blog!  So sorry!  I’ve been overwhelmed at work, school and home.  Not an excuse, just a reality.  Last week, I was away on business which I thought would provide a break.  WRONG.  Then I return home and get sick.  FANTASTIC.  Finally, I had to study for a statistics class.  I HATE statistics.  Actually, I’m so tired of school. I can’t wait to graduate.  I NEVER want to take another class again.

A couple of days ago, I did pick up Nicola Cornick’s new book, One Wicked Sin, but haven’t read much of it yet.  It’s book 2 in the Scandalous Women of the Ton trilogy.  I haven’t read the first book and the next book hasn’t been released.  The premise is a divorced woman, formerly the toast of the ton, is now destitute and working as a courtesan.  And she’s not happy about it.  (Thank goodness!  An author that makes the heroine unhappy with that choice.  I can’t imagine that most women would enjoy that line of work.)  Of course, I’m a bit confused about what a courtesan is.  In this book, she seems more a prostitute than courtesan.  I thought a courtesan was the term used for a woman who was paid to be a man’s mistress.  But here, the heroine is working for a madam and is called a courtesan.   It probably doesn’t matter.  Just me splitting hairs. Other than this, I haven’t gotten far in the book.  But I’ll let you know.

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