Mixed Reviews

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice. And I give absolutely no fucks.

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December 5, 2012

Two books to talk about today–one which was a DNF and another which I loved. I’m going to start with the DNF because, well, in some ways it’s easier for me to talk why I don’t like a book than why I do. When I like a book, I tend to get a bit flappy and exuberant.

Her Wicked Ways, Darcy Burke

Her Wicked Ways, Darcy Burke

So the book I wasn’t able to finish was Darcy Burke’s Her Wicked Ways. The premise of the book was definitely right up my alley–the female protagonist, Miranda, is a rebellious young woman sent to the country to rusticate with relatives and think about what she’s done. The male protagonist, Fox, is an impoverished member of the local gentry (I think he’s a baronet?) who has an orphanage to maintain and who has a secret identity as a highwayman in order to do things like repair the roof and buy clothing for the plot moppets. He also has a not-so-secret feud with the local MP who done stole the girl he loved back in the day (and then she DIED for PLOT REASONS possibly involving refrigerators).

So Miranda and Fox first meet when she’s en route to her relatives’ home and he stops their coach in order to rob them. Since she’s been a bad girl for unspecified reasons, she has nothing of value so they end up kissing for some reason. Then she ends up volunteering at the orphanage where she is initially put off by the plot urchins but they eventually win her over despite the lice. The only things Miranda is allowed to do is help out at the orphanage and go to church. Because forcing someone to do Good Deeds is totally how you reform their character.

And this is about when I stopped reading because I found that I didn’t care. And I was really bothered by how restrictive Miranda’s uncle was especially since we don’t know exactly what Miranda’s done to deserve such treatment. The way her relatives treat her is damn near abusive–she is isolated and told constantly that she doesn’t deserve better and it really bothered me. Especially as Miranda seems to become more tractable and amenable to being controlled. Also, her father (who is a duke) sends her a letter that pretty much proves that all the men in her family are giant dickbags.

As for Fox, he has a lot of manpain about the girl he lost to the wealthier neighbor–who is corrupt and so obviously the bad guy that there’s basically no narrative tension–he’s drooling over Miranda and taunting Fox and being mean to orphans. There are better ways to write a villain. Really. There are.

So I stopped reading it because I have way better things to do with my time.

Like reading Ruthie Knox.

Ride With Me, Ruthie Knox

Ride With Me, Ruthie Knox

I enjoyed About Last Night tremendously, so I’d added Ride with Me to the mental list of books to buy and it was one of the books I bought when I fell off the wagon last week and I’m so glad I did. This isn’t a long book, but there’s a lot of great stuff going on in it.

Tom and Lexie are brought together via a cross-country bike ride–grudgingly on Tom’s part, as he was unaware his sister was arranging for someone to ride with him. They both have histories–Tom is mostly estranged from his family and Lexie’s had a string of bad relationships that’s made her a bit apprehensive, especially since her parents met on this same bike route.

Anyhow, they’re both prickly and wrapped up in themselves and have very different riding styles–Tom is spontaneous and Lexie is not (which says some interesting things about how we compensate for our pasts in our present). At the same time, though, they’re intrigued by each other. Reading them slowly come together was just lovely–Knox has a way of really digging into the nitty gritty of their emotions that I found very satisfying to read.

This is a relationship of equals in every way and there are a lot of great moments. I think one of my favorite bits is the hot sauce scene (no, not in that way, pervert). And their arguments. And the scene where Lexie masturbates in a tent while thinking about Tom. And their frank desire for each other and the way they finally act on it–and the way, they both tried to make it a no-strings-attached fuck-buddy friendship and failed utterly. And then the way Tom figures out what it is Lexie wants/needs from him. And they each know that people aren’t perfect–the set-up of this book basically requires them to be really intimate with each other, even when they’re mad. As I think about this book, I keep coming back to the idea of grace–unearned and undeserved. There’s grace in this relationship–Tom and Lexie need to open their hearts to the possibility of happiness and it’s hard for them to do it, like their bike ride, but once they do the rewards are immeasurable.

And the ending, honestly, made me cry. I hardly ever cry at the end of romance novels because I am a cynical and hard-hearted woman. So anything that makes me sniffly has got to be pretty special and this book really is just that: special.

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