I’ve read a lot of books over the last week or so, but none of them really made me feel like writing a whole lot about any of them, so I thought I’d put them all in one post.
First up are the first two books in Sherry Thomas’s Fitzhugh trilogy, Beguiling the Beauty and Ravishing the Heiress. I really enjoyed these both quite a lot–and I suspect that I may have enjoyed Tempting the Bride (review) even more if I’d had a better idea of the back story between all the characters. But water, bridge, yadda yadda.
These two books are Venetia and Millie’s books, respectively, and while they don’t have anything as ridiculous as “heroine gets amnesia from getting kicked in the head by a horse” in them, they also deal with some interesting tropes from the genre.
Venetia’s romance is one of secret identity and revenge with a small digression into fossils (which reminded me of Amanda Quick’s Ravished and Tessa Dare’s A Week to be Wicked, both of which involve fossils as major plot points). It was an interesting read but I found myself increasingly tired of being told so often how beautiful Venetia was, although the way she used her beauty in a knowingly calculated way at times was a refreshing change from the usual. I had a hard time feeling invested in the relationship between her and Lexington, though, and I’m not sure why.
On the other hand, I ate up Millie and Fitz’s story with the proverbial spoon and I think that was because there was SO MUCH ANGST. Theirs is a marriage of convenience–Fits has inherited an estate that is deeply in debt and Millie’s father has a lot of money and a need to marry her to someone with a title. They agree to not consummate their marriage for 8 years and to give each other their freedom in the interim. What this amounts to, of course, is Fitz being free to do as he wishes and Millie being chastely faithful to him because she’s fallen in love with him. Over the eight years, their marriage develops into a deep friendship and partnership and their unrequited longing for each other was deliciously unbearable until they finally–finally–come to each other and confess their true feelings. It was delightfully angsty and really satisfying to read.
This one’s about Cath and Nev, two people who are familiar with each other because they live in the same neighborhood and take the same train (as someone who used to take the bus to work this really resonated with me–you do get to know the regulars). Cath is escaping her past and trying to make a new future and Nev is trying to make a life for himself that is somewhat independent from his family.
One thing I really liked about this book was the way Cath was so good at letting Nev know what her boundaries were and how he did his best to respect them–even when he didn’t want to. For large chunks of the book he doesn’t know where she works or lives or her phone number. She gets to be more or less in control and I really liked that. The conflict felt really natural, too–Nev’s family doesn’t understand him and have an idea of what his life should be like and he mostly goes along with that until he can’t anymore because he basically has to choose either Cath or going along with his family. I really liked the crunchy complicatedness of both Cath and Nev and I’m definitely going to pick up some more of Knox’s books as they come out and as the budget allows (I have had a bit of a book buying binge this last week).
Next on the list is Sylvia Day’s first Crossfire novel, Bared to You. Loaned to me by a friend, I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting much–I’ve heard people at work talk about this title in much the same way they talk about Fifty Shades of Grey (which I’ve read and was sort of meh about), so my expectations were pretty low.
I was pleasantly surprised. It’s not a great piece of writing and I’ll probably never reread it (and may very well not read anything else in the series), but it wasn’t bad either. I really liked Eva and the slow reveal of her past and the way she was pretty good at communicating her desires and needs and boundaries to Gideon. Gideon wasn’t always good at listening, presumably because of some of his own issues that were hinted at in this book (there were a number of references to his first experiences with consensual sex which probably means that like Eva he has sexual abuse in his past) but he was willing to listen and try to do better.
I will admit that I have a hard time believing the “stupidly wealthy at the age of 28” thing going on with Gideon because it is, frankly, unbelievable (Gideon reminded me a lot of J.D. Robb’s Roarke). I also have a hard time believing that Eva would develop such a strong rapport with her boss in such a short period of time and that she would be so amazing at her job in such a short period of time as well–not to mention the ethical problem of her becoming involved with a prospective client. I get that these books are, to a certain extent, wish fulfillment fantasies but come on. On the other hand, Eva’s roommate and best friend is a bisexual man who gets it on with both men and women in the book and there’s definitely something to be said about that (especially since the co-workers I heard talking about these books have also said a lot of really gross things about queer people that made me feel sad and uncomfortable and helpless, so one can hope that the non-judgemental way that Cary’s sexuality is portrayed in this book will eventually sink in).
And finally, the last book I’ve read so far is Molly Weatherfield’s Carrie’s Story–a book I’ve wanted to read for a very long time and just never got around to it (when it initially came out a decade ago I was too broke to buy books on a whim).
If you’re looking for a BDSM-lite book, this isn’t the book for you. It’s not quite as extreme as what I remember from Anne Rice’s Beauty books or Laura Antoniou’s Marketplace series, but it’s definitely more hardcore than Fifty Shades of Grey. A lot of the reviews of Carrie’s Story on Amazon are about how it’s not Fifty Shades of Grey. And no, it’s not–BDSM isn’t pathologized in it and the narrator (the titular Carrie) is smart, self-aware, and wonderfully analytical of what’s happening to her. She is a passive participant in her objectification and her internal journey was, to me, more interesting than what was happening to her body.
Carrie’s narrative voice is a big part of what makes this book so successful and it is her voice that allowed me to suspend my disbelief around a lot of the fantastical aspects of the setting. It’s hard for me to articulate why I liked this book so much–a lot of my liking has to do with the way that everyone is aware that they are acting in a system that has been explicitly designed to be fundamentally unfair and that it is, in many ways, a reflection of the way that the world we live in is also unfair–except that the power exchange isn’t consensual and the submission and subjugation isn’t chosen but imposed. There’s a lot more going on in this book than just a lot of explicitly kinky sex and I really wish that I’d gotten around to reading it sooner.
So that’s what I’ve been reading this past week–I am feeling a bit overloaded with romance right now and think I’ll be strategically retreating into SF/F for the next little while in order to cleanse my palate.