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Review – Blame It on the Duke

Blame It on the Duke, Historical Romance by Lenora Bell

Series: The Disgraceful Dukes #3

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My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Even though it might seem like not a lot happens in this book, it’s got a decent amount of the crazy sauce that I expect when reading this series. I definitely felt like it had toned down, but that’s a good thing.

Nick Hatherly is similar to other heroes I’ve seen who fear the onset of hereditary madness, but he brings a sort of mellow nature to the table that I have not see much in any aristocratic heroes. He takes refuge in hedonism, but he also takes good care of his father and accommodates him as he needs. Even when his father gambles him away to Sir Alfred Tombs.

Alice continues her marriage-avoiding antics. They’re more impressive than funny, which I appreciated. Too much more of that joke would have been labouring it and not as effective. Her reason is elaborated upon in this book, where she explains that she doesn’t just want adventure, she wants specifically to go to India and share with the scholars there her translation of a missing fragment of the Kama Sutra. She intended to go with her brother Fred and submit the work under his name, all too aware of her place as an unmarried woman.

The two quickly realise that they both have plenty to gain from a marriage of convenience (and unfortunate betting) and agree to a rather odd arrangement. Alice’s interest in sex is kindled by her translation work, and she wants Nick to school her. After they talk quite a bit (and wonderfully frankly) he develops a crush on her and also likes the idea of a wife who will bugger off to India and adventure after the honeymoon period.

Everything that happens is a leisurely slow burn, there to be appreciated rather than feverishly recounted. One of the most interesting subplots is that Nick rescues people imprisoned in asylums. His servants were rescued, but because there is not a stable female presence in his home, he can’t generally save women. With a new wife, he does save a woman named Jane, who is set up rather promisingly for a fourth book. (fingers crossed)

The romance benefits from the easy pace, and is both sweet and gratifying. There’s plenty of drama to be had in the subplots, but the romance only needs the expected internal conflict. As usual, I wouldn’t begrudge anyone their differing opinions, but I feel like this is a nice, uncomplicated read that acts as a great palate cleanser for someone who’s been reading harsh, problematic, or otherwise fatiguing books.

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Review – Aftercare

Aftercare, BDSM Erotica and LGBT Contemporary Romance by Tanya Chris

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My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I feel like making some kind of grand pronouncement that I shall never again let “not my kink” stop me from reading a book. That may not hold up for long or beyond this author, but the feeling is so there. I’ve read some of Tanya Chris’s other work, and she can always be relied on to craft round characters with sympathetic histories and motivations. They have grown up conversations, rather than descending into chapter after chapter of stupid misunderstandings that could be cleared up in a few sentences. Any possible conflict that might arise from a lawyer dating a client’s family member is thoroughly discussed and made acceptable through that discussion and understanding on the part of everyone involved.

The legal drama is also good. Rather than being a mystery wherein anyone in the cast must find the real murderer, the story focuses on defending Syed so that he isn’t blamed for a crime he didn’t commit. It certainly matters who did it, but things aren’t unrealistically wrapped up in a pretty bow that assumes the murderer must be caught to ensure a happy ending. At their best, the courtroom and prep scenes reminded me of watching Boston Legal, which can only be a good thing.

Of course, my favourite part is the romance and particularly Aayan’s internal struggles. He’s got a lot of baggage, from the need to reconcile his sexuality with his religion and family, to accepting his own desires regarding things like pain play. He isn’t immediately ‘fixed’ by sex or love, and he doesn’t deal with it all by himself, either. He has a wonderful support network in his family, which includes his ex-wife. Everyone talks to everyone, and it’s glorious. There’s a lot of trust and love here.

While I found Aayan’s character arc to be the most engaging, Garrett wasn’t left to flap in the wind as a character. He’s a bit more self-confident and self-accepting, which I loved, but he’s still mourning the death of his husband, three years gone, and is understandably reluctant to start dating again, let alone in a relationship that bears similarity to the one he had with his husband.

For all that this is a pretty short book, it feels just as satisfying as a longer one. It’s tightly written, the pacing is fantastic, and there is no wasted time. It’s a sexy love story with a lot more to offer than just steam, and I can’t recommend it enough. Even to people who don’t count BDSM among their kinks.

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Review – Seven Minutes in Heaven

Seven Minutes in Heaven, Historical Romance by Eloisa James

Series: Desperate Duchesses by the Numbers #3; Desperate Duchesses #9

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My rating: ⭐️⭐️

I’m starting to think I hate the typical Eloisa James hero. I love her heroines. But her heroes just descended into selfish, disgustingly sexist assholes. It defies logic that any woman would find men like this attractive.

Eugenia Snowe is a widow who loved her husband, although as usual, she realised he was a bad person so her new romance with the hero can be unique and mock virginal. As if no one ever falls in real love more than once. She runs a registry office which finds places for governesses at the most elite level. Unlike the heroine in Lady X, her ability to operate a business without interference actually makes any sense. It isn’t anything like as anachronistic and stupid. She’s genuinely still mourning her husband seven years later and one of her major reasons for not remarrying is that her business would stop being hers.

Ward Reeve, another twee poppet child character from the Desperate Duchesses series who grew up and chose a stupid nickname, has more redeeming qualities than Thorn, but Thorn didn’t have any. So the count pretty much sits at ONE. Ward is another illegitimate son of a peer who acts like he doesn’t care what anyone thinks because he knows society condemns him for existing, but really he’s even more arrogant and superior than a real peer. The plot hinges on him being an ignorant snob, for heaven’s sake. Why are they all like this? He looks down on Eugenia since he’s too socially stupid to know she’s the daughter of a marquess and widow of a viscount’s son. He thinks she’s “just a governess” and I think he’s a gobshite excuse for a character, let alone a hero. He says a lot of revolting things about the governess she sent, which are extremely sexist. When Eugenia calls him on his bullshit, he defends his awful behaviour and she lets it slide. Which seems to be a microcosm of their relationship. He does something horrible, she calls him on it, and he gets away with it anyway because of reasons.

While I sympathise with his situation (his half-siblings might be taken away from him because their grandmother is contesting custody) and I agree that a governess with a different temperament was in order, I wish he had been blown away by Eugenia putting him in his effing place. A better author would have done so. I’ve read scenes like the one I wanted and expected.

I guess that’s what I hate about Eloisa James’s heroes. No matter how repulsive their behaviour, they are never corrected. They never have to apologise or even realise that the way they act and think are equally sickening. The attraction between them and the much more worthy women feels like awkward author mandate because I cannot imagine anyone looking past these men’s loathsome personalities enough to react to their physical beauty.

Eloisa James heroes are like Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. Men who do despicable things so that they can possess a woman. Men who get away with that shit because they’re good-looking.

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Review – How the Duke was Won

How the Duke was Won, Historical Romance by Lenora Bell

Series: The Disgraceful Dukes #1

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My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

One might well wonder why I would give this book five stars. People I know have pretty low opinions of it–something I didn’t actually realise until today. I wouldn’t disagree with most of what detractors have to say about it. It’s not heavy on plausibility, the name Charlene is anachronistic, and the hero is a pretty weird character. The first thing he does, indeed the very first thing that happens in the book, is choose wife candidates by chucking knives at women’s pictures.

Normally, my thought process is to go through all of the ways that this is unrealistic behaviour. Why throw knives? That’s aggressive and super creepy. Why is he making his incredibly hungover/drunk friend throw knives too? Where did he get these pictures? Why not pull names out of a hat? What’s wrong with this guy?

Lots of things are wrong with him. But I didn’t ask these questions right away. First, I snort-laughed. This is so effing goofy. It’s a sign of how the book means to continue. Charlene’s situation is similarly ridiculous, although much more worthy of sympathy. And then her family’s bodyguard Kyuzo comes up, as well as jujitsu. This actually alarmed me for a second, as racism is hardly a fun thing to come across in leisure reading. But it parses better than you’d expect. Kyuzo is not a made up name, and it’s even rather an old one. His backstory is that he was abducted from a Japanese fishing village by a Dutch vessel, and while I can’t say anything about the Dutch, I can say that jujitsu was depicted correctly and if a fisherman of that period were to know any martial art in Japan, it’d be something like jujitsu.

This book is crazy sauce. Plain and simple. I could have figured this out even if I hadn’t read that the author claims it’s partially inspired by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It’s executed as well as any given romance novel when it comes to the romance–their chemistry is fine and they do spend a decent amount of time talking without the conversation being about sex. There’s some insta-lust, but I never took anything the hero said or did terribly seriously, so I kind of missed the worst of it. Maybe there was a quota on sex scenes or something, because there are three that just kind of happen subsequently right before the end. But the stuff that happens throughout is either goofy, not terribly period, or gothic-type larger than life drama. The villain gets one of the most insane examples in the book.

I never like crazy sauce. I’ll read reviews where someone has said, “Oh, this book is not to be taken seriously. It’s wtfery and just silly fun!” I do not ever have fun with these books. I didn’t like the Wicked Quills of London or Kerrigan Byrne’s The Highwayman. But I had to give this a high rating because it’s one of the rare instances where I actually got the silly fun and enjoyed it the whole time.

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(Romantic Sub)PLOT TWIST

amused

Listening to: Rabbit Down the Hole – Billy Talent

Last night went pretty well. I got a little written for that bitch of a chapter, and it got the ball rolling enough for me to actually write at all this morning. I made both of the phlebotomists laugh and I fixed a lost writing problem. Also got some more of that bitch written. But mostly today was just transit and bullshit.

The library got a buttload of Pathfinder standups! Or whatever you call them.

lurlenemichael

I want some of my own, these are all gorgeous.

These are the best minis for a character I’ve ever had. Lurlene and Michael look so awesome. <3 It was also a great session. We had a small group for once–which I prefer. My favourite players were there and Chrissy did a really good job DMing. I had the most fun.

Some pirates took us to this deserted island so we could visit the Princess Sorrow’s grave and bring her body back to her grieving father. A few characters got seasick, and then we were attacked by a hydra. Seeing as Michael’s bow skills are still revoltingly dreadful, he jumped off of the boat to attack it up close.

He even managed to avoid a fireball from the warlock (is that what she plays? All I remember is her name is Flameness and she gets teased for it) because the hydra bit its own head off attacking him and he fell into the water.

Then the mf climbed back up to slash at it again. LIKE A BOSS.

ssob

The bossest boss.

Mr Boffin turned an encounter with seven (nine?) vampire spawn into two by turning them. It could have gone really dire, too. We still took ages to kill the ones that made their saves. Then we had to split up so that only about half the party went into the grave to get Sorrow. Obviously Michael and Lurlene stick together, but I was willing to stay outside if someone wanted that.

The rogue failed to unlock the grave two or three times, which gave the head vampire lady time to come after us. That was a surprisingly okay fight, since Lurlene was dealing out 30-33 damage per turn.

Michael got all noble about burying two of the pirates who got squished by a rock, and he worried about the vampires, but people managed to talk him into coming back later to wipe them out.

The pirate captain was not happy about the other two pirates being dead thing, so Lurlene spun a wild (and thoroughly untrue) tale about how they fought bravely and she owed them her life. This brought a tear to the pirate captain’s eye and he gave her a silver piece for making him feel. He still charged us more for the ride back, but she’s keeping that silver piece on an effing necklace.

After the game, one of the kids asked me when Lurlene was actually going to marry her duke. And someone from our regular game realised that the town/city he was in was sacked. So the duke might be dead.

I decided that because she’s an adventurer, they were secretly married before she left in case anything happened to her. BUT SOMETHING MAY HAVE HAPPENED TO HIM. So next session, I’m gonna bring this up, because if he’s dead, Lurlene may be a widowed duchess, and Michael may have a shot.

But will the noble idiot take it?

It’s almost like a Bollywood movie. :D

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Unrequited Paladin

good

Listening to: Elkbeer kbeer – Amr Mostafa

Writing-wise, I whiffed it yesterday. Got a paragraph and two lines of dialogue. One of them is so snarky that it harkens back to Gideon’s original characterisation. Which is technically not good. It’s so much easier to write romance when they’re being morons about their feelings. But now one of them is being less of a moron and embracing the feels, so I just can’t even.

Today, we’ve got library D&D. I’m half-tempted to take Hubby and sit out so I can get some more writing done, but I really really want to play my characters from this campaign.

Most of us only play one character–for one thing, that’s the usual way of things. For another, there are enough players for three tables now. But in our regular campaign, we got used to having a roster of many characters each. And somehow I inherited one of Hubby’s callow youths just as he became a paladin.

My regular character is a warlock named Lurlene. She’s a private investigator, but not a terribly good one. In some ways, she’s a bit like Trixie from Black Jack Justice (minus the really shitty behaviour). One day, we were all in a town and the inn prices got stupid because the innkeeper was racist and we had tieflings. So Lurlene went in search of a bunk up with a hot guy.

She’s engaged to a duke now. The rolls were all uncommonly in my favour.

This happened right before I inherited a paladin. I named all of them after Pythons and Hubby decided they came from the same orphanage and so shared the surname of English. So mine is named Michael English. He’s an elf with a dexterity of 6. If you play D&D, you’re already making one of these faces:

whatthewha

If you don’t, then hopefully the graphic helps. It’s appalling. It should never happen. He basically can never do a ranged attack, because it’s just pathetic.

My story reason for him being my other character–because the other ones just got inherited and then dropped and one is dead (yes, that one. it just happened)–is that Lurlene’s ducal fiancé hired Michael as a bodyguard. Since Lurlene knows the Hunger of Hadar, she has no need of a bodyguard. So she was just using him as a sort of PA. She actually sent him to get coffee while the party was in a refugee camp called Coyote’s Refuge.

But while he was gone, the party got attacked by some thugs who wanted our pavilion. We’d worked hard for it. We bought it for a song from a guy who’d just done a mass murder. Lurlene used Prestidigitation and Mending to fix it up. It was OURS. I don’t remember it clearly, but I think it was one of those near thing fights that could have gone really badly.

Michael made a vow never to leave Lurlene’s side again. To the degree that for several fights after–at least three sessions, which is a big deal in a game that goes semiweekly–he stayed in the back with her. She’s a ranged fighter, she’s got two Eldritch Blasts and some other spells like Shatter. Michael owns a longbow. His dex is 6. He usually misses and he doesn’t do a lot of damage. Because he had to stay close and protect her.

Then he started to go out and do damage up close. He’s a melee fighter, it’s what he should be doing. He trusted Lurlene to hang back and not do anything stupid. More than once, he’s been the star fighter who dealt the killing blow and most of the damage. In a fight against three baby dragons, we had two healers who focused on keeping Michael alive because he was the one dusting the monsters, and because they picked up on the fact that I really cared about this character.

Lurlene and Michael work together now. She drops the Hunger of Hadar and he works with other characters to keep the monsters in Cthulhu Space. He rushes enemies while she wears them down. Everybody focuses fire. A ranged spellcaster and a melee fighter.

He hit level 5 last time I played (gah that was yonks ago) and I realised that I hadn’t chosen an oath of devotion for him. I looked them over and decided on the Oath of Devotion.So now he’s the goody-goodiest of paladins. He’s devoted to being upstanding and moral.

And he’s in love with an engaged woman. She doesn’t know. It’s horrible and beautiful and unrequited.

I don’t usually care for tragic romance, but the fact that this came up completely organically just tickles me. I love that I have characters with inner turmoil in a game that I rarely get to play. Other players give a damn. One of them asked to be Lurlene’s bridesmaid and even drew her character in a dress.

So that’s why I’m not going to sit out. I need some time to recharge on writing anyway. I read Saga and I’ve got another comic I want to read, as well as My Wicked, Wicked Ways. Maybe I’ll take a break to read.

Probably not.

Last night, I had a bicker with Hubby that nearly ended when he juxtaposed us over my characters. So surreal. I don’t know if it helped me writing-wise, but it was weird. He’s such a great hubband. Last night was kind of just weird in general, but I have already gone on waaaaaaaay too long as it is. Gotta write for at least an hour before we leave.

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So close to the end.

rlazy

Listening to: Body Bag — Hit the Lights

Every (late) morning, I wake up thinking that I have a lot of writing to get done that isn’t going to happen. But it isn’t so. The thing is, pretty much of the time, my writing gets done between the hours of 23:00 and 6:00. Before I go to sleep. But then I wake up at 8 or 10, it feels like the day is just starting and I haven’t done anything yet. Rather than the truth, which is that I wrote at least 3000 words before I finally passed out. This has become the usual thing, I don’t know why I’m remarking on it. I should have realised by now that I am actually getting things done.

I have 75K words overall. Ten chapters, which might split up into around twenty because the way I write chapters has gone strange. One of the external conflicts resolved in the chapter I just finished, strengthening an internal one and further defining t’other.

This is definitely not the shortest amount of time I have taken to write a novel, but it feels different. Way more productive and fantastically consuming. I have books out from the library that I think I’ve had since June. I’ve got The Talon of the Hawk, which I’m actually really enjoying, sitting in front of me while I think about how to start Chapter 11.

I have a couple of major events left to write and then the ending, which is always the hardest part. I sketched out the notes I know that I need to hit, with questions answered (what the heck has Dov been doing for like an effing month? Why does Gideon heal so fast? Exile?) and the last conflict squared away in spectacular fashion that will take four major characters to accomplish.

Then I have to go back to each of my [Does sex happen here?] notes and decide if sex does indeed happen there. And write it. Which always takes me forever, because I’m a perfectionist and I have limited research material. Lol.

Question one might ask: why did I leave notes instead of writing the sex in the first place (and the second, and the third)? There are a lot of little answers. Aside from the fact that I hadn’t written a sex scene in… probably four to six years before this, the relationship burned a LOT slower than I expected. Several reasons for this. When I started, the characters definitely didn’t like each other much. Consent is super important to me (and I hope everyone), so I didn’t want any dubious moments or creepy pushiness. Early on, Gideon says outright that they aren’t going to sleep together–which is a perfectly natural thing to say when one enters into a fake relationship–and that made the sexytimes rather difficult to justify and place even as notes.

There are industry expectations (of which I am mildly aware) for sex scene steaminess and frequency. My own personal expectations have yet to be met. My notes look like mostly good places, especially since Hubby skimmed them and gave me his usual bemused thumbs-up.

But I want to relegate actually writing these scenes until right before revision. When the story is finished. Certainly not because I’m a prude. (Over in Nashville, Conrad is suddenly laughing and doesn’t know why) But because I’m learning how to be productive again. I know that working with an outline is technically easier and gives me more creative security than not having one. I also know that I work much much slower with an outline and that sometimes the illusion of being finished can garrote my projects. Also, writing endings is hard, even if I know how it ends.

I need to stay focused.

I’ve kept imprecise notes for the entire story. The majority have been dumped in favour of better ideas or because they didn’t work anymore, but they kept me interested. A lot of them belong to the story that I thought I was writing.

One of my earliest notes that I have kept this whole time is this: This is not turning out the way I expected. It is an entirely different beast. But I won’t turn it away. It’s my beast.

I’m not nervous. I’m working.