Archive for the ‘Historical’ Category

Formulas, Both Good and Bad

March 13, 2008
After reading several hundred of these books that are labeled romance in just under six months or so, I’ve come to realize (as every avid reader will inevitably see as well) the formula of authors. And yes, of course I realize that every author has their own formula that applies to the way they write their characters, the writing style, and the timing of their plot. It’s unavoidable. Not everyone can be totally original in every book, especially in a genre like this. On the other hand, that so called formula is what makes that author recognizable. 

But what I’ve come to realize is that the authors who have their formula but are able to disguise it to appear new in each successive book are the ones that are the ones who earn a higher place in my proverbial, and literal, bookshelf.

It’s such a delicate balance to play. When the formula is way too apparent, as a reader, it totally turns me off. I’ve actually turned down a lot of authors that I’ve come across simply because I knew how the book would turn out even when I hadn’t read it yet. At the same time, when the author tries something new and totally turns a 180 with a new formula, it’s hard to get into a new groove and can sometimes feel like you’re reading a foreign author instead of one that you’ve known for years. Like I mentioned, the authors who are able to disguise their formula are the ones to keep an eye out for.

Let’s examine some of the formulas…
First up: Sabrina Jeffries. Jeffries was really my first romance. Not the literal first, but One Night with a Prince was my first self-chosen one. The literal first romance was one that was borrowed and read as a joke. But Jeffries’ last Royal Brotherhood book was the one that I choose for myself. With Jeffries, it’s a standard formula. Her hero and heroine meet and usually there’s a bit of deception going on on behalf of the hero. The deception seems to be standard Jeffries and it’s not a totally original formula. She pretty much sticks to a classic form: Meet, Attraction, Deception, Sex, Climax/Downfall, Resolve. From what I’ve read of Jeffries, and I’ve read them all, it feels that she doesn’t stray from her formula. Now, what makes some of her books better than others simply lie in character developments, plot strength, and time constraints as a writer. With Jeffries, after you’re familiar with the formula, you can actually just eyeball the pages that have past and gauge how close you are to the big blowup of the plot and the climax of the story.

Another author who sticks with a formula religiously is Jill Shalvis. She is strictly a whodunit author. There is no deviation from the formula. At first, I enjoyed Get a Clue and then Strong and Sexy, but by the time I got to the end of my third Shalvis novel, I knew that I would never get anything but a story straight out of the game Clue sprinkled with some mediocre sex that was fitted between the pages of the bad guy chasing the hero/heroine with a gun, a knife, or dead bodies popping up unexpectedly. Though the settings change, the overall trend of the plot does not. Somehow, I always end up feeling that the characters are sacrificed in order to develop the mystery and for me, the characters of a romance must be the most important. Even a lousy plot is easily rescued by strong characters, but a plot with no character development 
will never make the reader care about the outcome and therefore the plot becomes a moot point. Shalvis is a ‘stop reading’ author for me now. The formula is just too predictable. 

One author who comes to mind when I think of formula is Deirdre Martin. I had high hopes for her books initially. I was looking for something fun and nothing too adrenaline rush in terms of action, nor was I in the mood for real emotional pull, so I thought Martin would be a fast and satisfactory read. My first Martin was fine. I thought the plot was mediocre and the idea was okay but the characters had their funny moments and so I decided to give her another shot. It only got worse. I really did want to like the books, and some had their potential but it got too redundant. Her characters meet, attract, date, encounter a problem, break up, mope, and get back together. 

An author who changed their formula recently is that of Lisa Kleypas with her venture into contemporary fiction with Sugar Daddy. I couldn’t finish the book. And that’s really saying something. Of all the hundreds I’ve read, there’s only been maybe three at the most where I just stopped reading all together. While I can admire (but not appreciate) Kleypas’ trying a new formula, I cannot say that it worked. She introduced her heroine and one hero that we read for a large chunk of the novel. However, it’s at least half-way if not more into the novel when we finally meet the second hero who ultimately gets the girl. Switching from one hero to the other is too hard when the readers are way too engaged with the first hero that we’ve read. It’s especially hard to switch to the ‘other guy’ when readers see the characters as children or young adults who have experienced a large part of their growth together. I really was appalled at the outcome of the pairing. 

Off the top of my head, two authors who stick to a certain formula but are able to disguise it are J.R. Ward and Sherrilyn Kenyon. With Ward, her plots are continual and I think that makes all the difference. The stories are so intertwined that some secondary characters will appear in books and not be resolved until future books. Case in point: the character of John Matthew. We see the introduction of John Matthew in the second book, Rhage and Mary’s story in Lover Eternal. To this day, John Matthew’s story is still going on and Ward will be releasing the sixth book come June. Even with that, it’s not even John Matthew’s novel yet. His story is really a constant thread in the Brotherhood fabric. In Ward’s writing, though there is a formula, it’s harder to really guess as a reader when events will come. For example, with some authors, readers can gauge when bad news is about to occur. Not so with Ward. It can happen for the main hero/heroine at anytime and for secondary characters, it’s true as well. As readers of Ward can attest, those secondary characters can hit just as hard as the main couple of the book. For instance, in Z and Bella’s Lover Awakened, the shock of Wellsie and Tohr really caught me off guard. With Ward, it’s not easy to point out a formula, which makes for a good book and a happy reader. 

In the case of Kenyon, she has an ongoing plot but I wouldn’t categorize it as extensively as Ward’s. With Kenyon, it’s more of the feeling of an ongoing mystery. The mystery of Acheron and other various characters. But still, while I wasn’t an immediate Kenyon fan, I have grown to be a loyal one and I’m glad that I stuck with the books. Kenyon is now one of my favorites, right after Ward. Kenyon has a formula, though it’s not as easily categorized as other authors I’ve mentioned. For me personally, I feel that with each kind of Dark Hunter, whether it’s the originals, the Weres, or the Dreams, they each have their own timeline formula within Kenyon’s subcategories of DH’s. In some sense, it was smart of Kenyon to sprinkle a Were-Hunter in the midst of reading normal Dark Hunters. Right when I got into the groove of reading Dark Hunters, she throws in that first Were-Hunter and it shakes up the formula. Quite inventive to shroud her formula so that readers don’t get bored. 

Overall, while I’ve come to see many (if not all) of the formulas from authors I’ve read, I think that characters really make or break the book, formula be damned. Though Jeffries follows a formula I’ve come to expect, she has characters who can bring out the best in her stories. But someone like Shalvis where I feel that the characters are chopped down in favor of the formulaic plot…well, that’s no good for this reader. But the authors who keep me guessing…those are easily everyone’s favorites. It’s no wonder why legions of loyal readers flock to Kenyon or Ward. 

By the way, I saw my first Kenyon Dark Hunter license plate the other day on the 5 freeway. A plate that read DRKHNTR on a truck. I’m pretty sure that was what it read. Either way, no matter the spelling, I knew with almost complete certainty that it was a Dark Hunter salute. 
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Daisy Pickings: She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not

February 27, 2008
The last and final Wallflower book, Scandal in the Spring. A good way to wrap up the series, it’s Lillian’s younger sister, Daisy’s turn for her happily ever after. As stated in previous novels, the Bowman sisters are in England to find titled husbands to match their American money. However, for Daisy, that husband doesn’t turn out to be titled after all…

Daisy might not be the shyest wallflower, for that title goes to Evie, but she’s the one who likes to keep to herself. She’d rather be in the company of the library and her novels instead of attending gatherings and balls. But she knows that she needs to find a husband, she’s just not in a hurry. So when her father tells her that she has to marry his business partner, Matthew Swift, she remembers the gangly young man who occasionally had dinner with the family and quickly dismisses the idea. 

Matthew is hiding a secret. A family secret that will surely ruin all that he worked for. So after the initial shock of finding out that Daisy’s father wants him to marry his youngest daughter wears off, Matthew tries his best to find a replacement. It’s not that Matthew doesn’t want Daisy, no, that’s certainly not the case. Matthew’s spent years longing for the quiet Bowman daughter and if his circumstances were changed, he’d jumped at the opportunity to make Daisy his. But the secret will undoubtedly rip them apart. For Daisy, he lets go of the idea of being together and puts a wall between them, hoping to find another man for Daisy during his stay at Westcliff’s home. 

Slowly, one clue after another, it becomes apparent to Daisy that perhaps Matthew isn’t the ogre that she once thought. Even more so, it seems that he might be in love with her. So why on earth is he pushing her towards another man but glowering at them at the same time? Daisy takes things into her own hands. She’s got to seduce Matthew Swift into confessing his feelings. Once they finally get together, Matthew will do all that he can to hold onto her and not let his secret tear them apart. 

I felt that Daisy and Matthew’s story was a great way to bookend the series. It was sweet and funny with a bit of a plot twist towards the end. The dynamics between the hero/heroine was definite chemistry especially since Daisy has no idea Matthew feels anything towards her in the beginning. They have a lot of fun back and forth scenes where they antagonize each other for separate reasons. At first, Daisy annoys Matthew because she doesn’t like him and Matthew does so in turn to keep her at bay. What really made the story for me was the fact that Matthew has secretly longed for Daisy for quite a while. The scene with Lillian’s labor and Daisy’s discovery that Matthew has been keeping a lock her her hair encased in an old button was definitely sweet enough to make the reader want to melt into a puddle of mush. While the secret wasn’t all that fantastic, the twist at the end with what happens to Matthew was well done. It pulled enough heart strings for the reader to really wonder about the fates of the characters.

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4 out of 5: Great way to end the series. Daisy’s character is witty and Matthew’s quiet but constant love of her is enough to make it a reread kind of book. Definite keeper copy. 
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Scandal in the Spring

Tamed by the Shyest Wallflower

February 26, 2008

My favorite Wallflower novel, Evie and St. Vincent. 

A fan favorite among the series, this is classic Kleypas at her best. The plot is constantly weaving in and out both in the fore and background while the characters both equally grow and discover their feelings. The evolution of their relationship is a slow blossom, but is undeniable once it happens. By far, Devil in Winter ranks in my top three for all the hundreds of historicals I’ve read. 

Evangeline Jenner, the daughter of a gaming club owner, is by far the shyest wallflower. So much so that she stutters and trips over her words when she’s nervous. But that part of her personality easily fools people into thinking that she’s just a rug you can walk all over. But she’s not. Determined to get away from her family who’s basically forcing her hand into marriage with her cousin because of her inheritance, Evie flees to Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent and proposes an arrangement. 

Fresh from the incident in which St. Vincent kidnapped Lillian Bowman and still sporting a black eye from his childhood friend, Westcliff, St. Vincent is out of options. He’s a penniless peer whose only worth is his title. But it’s not the title that Evie wants. It’s protection of having a husband. So when the shy wallflower with the flaming red hair shows up at his home offering immediately marriage, St. Vincent agrees and off they go to Gretna Green.

The terms of the marriage are clear: sex will occur only once to solidify the marriage and never again. St. Vincent can have use of Evie’s money but Evie will retain a certain amount of freedom. It is an obvious marriage of convenience. Or is it? 

When the ‘one night sex’ blows St. Vincent’s mind, he’s determined to have Evie in his bed again. And again. When Evie sees the softer side of St. Vincent early on, such as him cradling her in the carriage while they make the long journey to Scotland to get married, she’s hesitant to write him off as the unrepentant rake. As they return to London, Evie wants to take care of her dying father. St. Vincent stays at the gaming club with her and his urge to reform and spruce up the club is an unsettling feeling for him. He’s never worked a day in his life but suddenly he’s up to his elbows in account books and other matters. 

As tensions flair along with emotions, St. Vincent strikes a deal of his own with Evie. He’ll remain celibate for a period of three months with a promise of being monogamous with the stipulation that when he succeeds, Evie will be in his bed whenever he wants in the future. Evie agrees. 

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I really cannot begin to describe how Devil in Winter is truly Kleypas at her best. It’s as if all the stars aligned for the plot to run smoothly, the characterizations to be perfect, and the emotions to peek at just the right time. Whatever it is, it’s perfect.

The characters of Evie and St. Vincent both grow equally, though St. Vincent does most of it. Evie learns to assert herself as well as trusting St. Vincent to take care of her both physically and emotionally. St. Vincent discovers the experience in letting someone not only into his life but his heart and the rewards of doing so. There are very few characters who can start as low as St. Vincent and end up as the hero that readers will willingly cheer for. 

The evolution of their relationship is well done. It’s gradual, with little hints along the way. Even when Sebastian’s promise of celibacy and monogamy is given, it’s evident that he hasn’t truly fallen in love yet. Or at least, not fully. But when the final plot twist shows its hand, that’s when most of St. Vincent’s growth occurs. 

Truly, the book is well thought out and plotted accordingly. The conversation is paired nicely and the characters never seem out of place. Personally, Evie and St. Vincent are my favorite Kleypas couple and I was sorry to see the story end.

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5 out of 5: It’s a definite and big 5 out of 5. Great read, cannot recommend enough. If you only chose to read one of the wallflowers, this is the one to choose!
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Devil in Winter

The Straight Laced Becomes Undone

February 24, 2008
Second in the Wallflower series is It Happened One Autumn. We obviously meet Lillian Bowman along with the other wallflowers in the first book, but we’re also introduced to Marcus, Lord Westcliff. In Annabelle and Simon’s story we meet Westcliff through Simon, as Marcus is a business associate of Simon’s. So, the majority of the first novel takes place at a gathering on Westcliff’s home as he hosts a number of people to come and stay for a while. 

There are a pair of sisters within the wallflowers and Lillian is the older sister. The Bowmans are rich Americans who have come across the ocean to seek a titled husband for their daughters. Westcliff is one of the oldest titles in England, not to mention wealthy as well. In the first book, we’ve already seen Westcliff and Lillian butt heads, repeatedly. Lillian is outspoken, much more so than is considered polite for the day. She also likes to have her fun and is the most opinionated of all the wallflowers. If something’s on her mind, she won’t hesitate to tell you, even if it’s guaranteed to piss you off. Westcliff can’t get over how brash and unladylike Lillian is. Westcliff likes order. It’s apparent in the way he carries himself and the burden of being the head of the family. Already, they set up for a delicious attraction of opposites. 

As predicted, the characters continue to butt heads throughout the story before their attraction is really noticed between the two. The beginnings where they’re just fuming at one another is a really fun read. But complications arise. When Westcliff wants to make Lillian his bride, his mother refuses to sit back and see that the old Westcliff title be sullied by the loud American girl. Westcliff’s mother pulls some plot strings behind the scenes and we see the character of Sebastian, Viscount St. Vincent, take a larger role in the outcome of the story. St. Vincent is a childhood friend of Westcliff’s and while they might not see eye to eye on everything as adults, the childhood bond they’ve forged is still important to Westcliff. While at the party, we know that St.Vincent needs a wealthy heiress to marry, and that’s where Lillian comes in and the story gets complicated.

St. Vincent sniffs around Lillian in the beginning when Westcliff is still sorting through his feelings. And St. Vincent is a notorious rake. While St. Vincent is charming Lillian, we see the growing affection between Lillian and Westcliff. So when Westcliff wants to marry Lillian, his mother urges St. Vincent to kidnap Lillian into marriage. The story proceeds from there.

I must admit, It Happened One Autumn is not my favorite Wallflower book. It actually ranks the last. And it could be because I read them out of order. In fact, I know for sure it’s because I read them out of order. Though looking back, even if I read them in series, I still think I would rank them the same. But the thing is that I read Sebastian’s story before I read Lillian and Westcliff’s. So to see Sebastian made out as the villain after I’ve seen him as the hero doesn’t jive with my thoughts and feelings about his character. Kleypas herself noted that she wasn’t looking to give Sebastian his own novel because of how deplorable he acted in It Happened One Autumn. She thought it’d be way to hard to redeem his character after what had happened. 

However, there are other reasons in which I rank this book the last of the series. While I enjoyed Lillian’s antics and her outspoken behavior, it didn’t match with the others who really are wallflowers in the sense of the term. Especially the last two books, the girls really are shy girls. To me, Lillian belonged outside of the series where it wasn’t entitled, Wallflowers. The hero/heroine don’t go through the emotional wringer like the other characters do either. Even though there are really strong feelings between the two, the plot doesn’t pull as much emotions as with the other Wallflowers. But to be fair, Lillian and Westcliff’s relationship is wonderful because of Westcliff’s journey into realizing that proper isn’t always what’s fun. Westcliff is very much a Darcy character. And while this book might not be my favorite, it does have very stiff competition and I can’t say that it’s a bad book in any sense. Besides, who can resist a character who’s like Darcy, anyways?

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3.5 out of 5: Not my favorite of the Wallflowers for reasons explained above, but it is a worthwhile read nonetheless. Keeper copy, time to time reread.
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It Happened One Autumn

Simon Says He Wants the Wallflower

February 24, 2008
After the discovery of Sabrina Jeffries back in my infant stage of reading romances, it was Lisa Kleypas that cropped up next. Specifically, her Wallflower series. Still, after all the numerous historicals I’ve read afterwards, the Wallflowers are at the top of my list. There’s something so inherently charming and smack in the middle of what’s considered to be romance reading about the women who are overlooked but whom somehow end up with the handsome and wealthy man. 

The series is quite closely knit together and while it is possible, as I did, reading out of order, it flows much smoother if done in order. The general story is that four wallflowers band together and become friends. They each have their own reasons to get married and while they don’t all attract the same kind of man, they do however, end up happily married. 

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Secrets of a Summer Night: Annabelle must marry. Her family has no money and she has her younger brother to think of as well as her mother. Debts are piling and Annabelle is forced to see her mother go to extremes to keep their family afloat. Simon has money. But he has no title. Instead, he has risen from the son of a butcher to be a wealthy and successful business man. The men around Annabelle know of her situation, and though she is beautiful, they rather wait for her to be desperate enough to become a mistress instead of the bothersome notion of making her a wife. Simon has asked repeatedly for Annabelle to dance at gatherings but has been turned down. So, when Simon realizes the seriousness of Annabelle’s financial situation, why not offer her a place in his bed? At first the offer is that of a mistress, but as the story goes on, and attachments begin to form, it becomes marriage. 

This was a good start to the series. The foundation is laid for all the rest of the wallflowers and we see how the characters will be. Simon is a wonderful read. He’s handsome, wealthy, and extremely charming in the humorous sense. He has a devilish sense of humor and isn’t thwarted by Annabelle’s refusal. However, it was also great to see Simon’s softer side even when the feelings they shared weren’t exactly love yet. When Annabelle is injured, Simon is frantically worried and the scene with him buying her custom made boots just makes the reader want to melt. Annabelle is a strong female character. She has a lot on her shoulders and knowing that she needs to attract a husband with no money is a constant weight pressing on her. But she pushes forward, not knowing that she’s also slowly but surely falling in love with Simon along the way. 

Personally, I think that readers might feel more sympathetic towards Simon’s character. Simon straddles the social ladder. He has no title, but he has money. And he knows that people look down on him. Annabelle as well. When that really becomes a problem between them, it hurts to see Simon rejected like that. Simon definitely knows what he wants, gets it no matter the consequences, and he doesn’t let go. Annabelle on the other hand, is less sympathetic in some ways. Her constant need to searching for the wealthy and titled husband can get in the way of really liking her character a hundred percent all the way through. While in the end, when she does redeem herself by showing what she truly is willing to sacrifice for Simon, it comes perhaps too late. Readers see Simon’s love for Annabelle so soon in the story that I think Simon’s a natural choice between whom to like better.

The plot itself is not that intricate. It’s very simple. Annabelle needs a husband. Simon wants Annabelle. And it goes from there. Nothing too fancy. The majority of the books is really Simon winning Annabelle and the sweet moments in between. After their marriage there’s an adjustment period for the both of them and the problems with her family. Additionally, the scene at the very end where Annabelle really does prove her love for Simon was unexpected but needed to really wrap up the plot. Overall, it was a good beginning and it does it job of setting up the rest of the characters and how their lives intertwine. 

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4 out of 5: Good job in showing the slow evolution of Simon and Annabelle’s relationship. Heavy on characters, thiner on plot. However, does set up the rest of the series and the little moments and conversations between the characters make up for any lack of plot. Conversation is witty and very Kleypas. Definite keeper and reread. 
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Secrets of A Summer Night

It’s the Teacher’s Turn

February 18, 2008
The School for Heiresses series has released its newest addition: Let Sleeping Rogues Lie.

Madeline Prescott has taken a teaching position with the school as her own family troubles concerning her ailing father weigh on her shoulders. Her father, a doctor, is depressed for an accident done that is now deemed a crime concerning the use of nitrous oxide. Anthony Dalton, Viscount Norcourt, needs the guardianship of his young niece and therefore will need the backing up of a good school for him to fight the custody battle in court. Too bad he has carefully cultivated a reputation for bad behavior since his childhood has told him that he cannot be good. But to rescue his niece from the fate that he suffered as a child, he must win Madeline’s approval and has agreed to teach the girls at the school lessons on how to spot a rake in exchange for the guarantee of his niece’s admission. 

The fourth full novel of the series, not counting the small part in the anthology entitled Anthology: School for Heiresses, seems the confirm the slump that the author and the series has fallen into. Perhaps it’s unjust to label it a slump, but maybe a ‘rush’ would be more appropriate. While I don’t think that the series started on a solid footing with Never Seduce a Scoundrel, I did love Only a Duke Will Do. I thought the emotional complexities of Simon and Louisa and the weaving of multiple plots and roadblocks was well done and classic Jeffries. Maybe with Simon and Louisa, they enjoyed the ability to begin in a previous book and finally finish in their own novel. However, I think, should we have first met SImon and Louisa in their book and not before, the story would have still been told with the same effect. The stories after them just don’t seem to be as complex. There is one major roadblock to the happy ending, and even those are becoming paltry and not sufficient.

Anthony’s childhood, while sad, was not written with enough depth to consider it to be his true hinderance for romance with Madeline. And Madeline’s constant search for her father’s truth to set him free was a stretch and not emotional enough. The connection shared by the hero and heroine was adequate but not heart-wrenching like other characters written by Jeffries. Anthony’s fear of ‘releasing his beast’ was too contrived and at odds with his character. Though I can understand how his upbringing would turn him into the ‘bad boy,’ his fear of his sexuality was a nice try for Jeffries to explore new territory. However, it was not fleshed out enough and at the end, it seemed to be a plot thread that the author was grasping at for an attempt to pull the strings together. The ending was anti-climatic and I was not on the edge of my seat, nor was I fearing that the happy ending was too far from reach. Those two elements, the ‘sitting on the edge of my seat’ and ‘oh, my is this story going to end happy?’ feeling have been cornerstones of Jeffries’ historicals. But, it seems that she has lost her touch recently. Though I love her writing, I would not recommend his book.

One of the few highlights of the story was to see Simon as Anthony’s friend and Simon’s brief mention to his happy marriage with Louisa. Unfortunately, Let Sleeping Rogues Lie was obviously rushed and did not have significant time to stew and develop into a true Jeffries novel. Disappointing, seeing as how I’ve waiting with baited breath since I did not particularly enjoy the last novel either.

While the book did not have glaring spotlight-type flaws, it was not on par to what I’ve come to associate with Jeffries’ books.

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2.5 out of 5: Disappointment in terms of being a Jeffries, but is definitely not the worst I’ve read. There are many more that would be considered lesser but this is not worthy of being novel to Jeffries’ standards. Will keep copy because it adds to the collection but is not a re-read.
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Let Sleeping Rogues Lie