A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

TBR Challenge: The Demon Count’s Daughter by Anne Stuart

The theme: Getaway

Why this one: I’m trying to catch up with my favorite authors. Also, it’s nice and thin.

I expected this to be more of a traditional gothic — and perhaps it is; I don’t really know all that much about them. Certainly the heroine is young and innocent, and going to a decaying, mysterious sorta-castle, but she’s by no means destitute or friendless. She is, as the title suggests, the daughter of the hero of a previous book, and has grown up with plenty of love, wealth and freedom. Her visit to her father’s estate in Austrian-controlled Italy (1864) is supposed to be simple tourism, but actually she’s on a lookout for hidden papers that must be destroyed.

The other way in which this differs from the gothic of my imagination — there’s sex! Not a tremendous amount but you can see the Stuart that would later appear.

It’s very much a sequel and I haven’t read the first book, so that was a bit of a drawback. But the plot is extremely thin anyway, so it doesn’t matter all that much. Luciana goes to Italy in search of a mcguffin important papers, instantly falls in love with a much older and quite bitter divorced man, and spends the rest of the book being rescued from danger by him or trying to get him to love her. She narrates, which is kind of a drawback, because we don’t really get input into Evan’s feelings, or why he acts the way he does. At one point he says, “Lucy, I am too old for these romantic misunderstandings.” Well, why can’t you be forthright then? Why make it so very easy to be misunderstood?

There’s good dialogue, and some fun interactions with Lucy’s maid/companion, an unabashedly lusty wench with an eye for anything in trousers, and her male counterpart, “Venice’s very finest gigolo.” The main drawback, other than the almost pointless plot, is some bare bones, almost unfinished-feeling prose. Action scenes are awkward, and there often seems to be a connecting sentence or two missing. I didn’t always have a good sense of where Lucy was or how she got there.

But honestly, I’m not all that fussy these days. it was an entertaining enough, quick read, and if you like this sort of thing or like Stuart, it’s worth a try.

 

CW for book: violence and attempted assault (not by the hero), and some ick factor involving the hero’s child.

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I is for In Hope’s Shadow aka S is for Shafted

In Hope’s Shadow by Janice Kay Johnson

(Minor spoilers)

This is a sequel to Yesterday’s Gone, an excellent book about an abducted, abused child who is finally found as an adult. Johnson is very good at taking “shocker” plotlines and making them into thoughtful stories that plausibly delve into the emotions of the situation. (Whose Baby, about a mother discovering her daughter was switched at birth, is also very good.)

The follow-up concerns Eve, a foster child who was adopted after Hope’s abduction, and who has always felt like a poor replacement, never truly secure in her parents love. (They aren’t entirely without blame for this, but they do love her.) Her “sister’s” return brought up a lot of jealousy, and it didn’t help that she was found by, and immediately adored by, the cop Eve had been dating. (There are hints of “Laura” — Seth fell for Hope’s age-progressed photo.) As this book opens, Eve has established a friendship with her new sibling, and her remnants of jealousy over Seth don’t survive her blossoming relationship with his gorgeous coworker, Ben.

This was a very engrossing read, and as thoughtful, in its way, as the first book. But I found it a real letdown because I felt that Eve continued to be shortchanged in her own story. Her mother never really acknowledges some of ways her grief impacted on Eve — it’s up to Eve to realize she’s been foolish and unfair.

But it’s her relationship with Ben that is really the carcinogenic cherry on top of the diet sundae. Their first dates make me think of the horrible ones a heroine might go on before meeting Mr. Right. He is constantly hurting her, in a “nice guy” way. And he is ambivalent towards her, and yearning for his e-wife, almost to the very end of the story. 

“And yeah, he felt nothing but relaxed acceptance and even anticipation about where they were heading. He’d succumbed without much of a fight, he realized, in part because he hadn’t liked the bachelor lifestyle. He had no hankering to sample a different woman a week.

Gaze resting on Eve, he smiled. He couldn’t get enough of her, in bed or out.

Only the memory of the expression on Nicole’s face shadowed his mood.”

So… he finally, more than 90% into the book, is willing to consider a future with Eve. Because being a bachelor isn’t that great. And even then, he’s still thinking about his ex.

(SPOILERS) When his wife asks if they can try again, he does reject her, but without saying a word about Eve. Instead, Eve has to say it for him:

“‘Then what did I tell Nic?’

Old fears and new collided with the sense of self-worth she had been accepting — a confidence Ben had something to do with. [How, I can’t imagine.] And… was that a smile in his voice?

‘I think — ‘ her voice cracked, but she managed to steady it ‘– you told her you were sorry, that you’re actually madly in love with this spitfire of a woman who keeps you looking beyond the obvious.’

Ben laughed, the skin crinkling beside his very blue eyes, the creases in his cheeks deepening. ‘You’re right.'”

No, actually, you’re completely wrong, because he didn’t say one word about you.  And after mooning over his ex for the whole book, he really, really needed to.

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