Review: “Cold-Hearted Rake” by Lisa Kleypas

Hello, my lovely imaginary readers! I finally got around to reading Cold-Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas, and I can honestly say that I’m glad I did. But not for the most obvious reasons, unfortunately.

The obvious reason would be that I like the book. Weeeell, I kinda, sorta, maybe liked it.

First, let me tell you, my dears, that I love Lisa Kleypas. Some of her books are on my all-time favorites list. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve re-read Dreaming of You or Where Dreams Begin. And her Hathaway and Wallflower series were awesome!

Cold-Hearted Rake‘s heroine Kathleen is a widowed bride of the Earl of Trenear, to whom she was married for only three days. When the new earl, Devon Ravenel, comes to take the title and sell off whatever of the entailed property he can, misunderstandings ensue, mainly due to Kathleen rigid ideas of right and wrong. While she does have some redeeming qualities, like her sense of obligation and responsibility to the former earl’s younger sisters, whom she truly seems to like, she just never grabs the reader’s attention enough for him or her to say, “Love her!!” It just doesn’t happen.

But you can like a book without liking aspects of a single character. Unfortunately, the other main character, Devon, isn’t that great either. He’s a self-proclaimed gentleman of no talent and little work ethic. I mean this literally; he states in the first chapter that he has “‘always enjoyed a comfortable life without having to perform single day of honest labor.'”  FYI: This is not endearing. He just wants to chuck his responsibilities to the wind, including the guardianship of the former earl’s sisters and widow. This, of course, is something that’s overheard by Kathleen, which starts their enmity and their bumbling, forced relationship.

He doesn’t care for her judgments, whether or not they are deserved. But he overlooks this because she’s beautiful and he wants to have an affair with her. While he does change his mind eventually about putting them all out on the street, he does so mainly due to the fact that he considers Kathleen his from the first few chapters. He doesn’t redeem himself because he never does any of his “good” actions for anything other than selfish reasons, i.e. to fulfill his desire to have Kathleen.

His selfishness is highlighted by the fact that his younger brother, West, is exactly the same dissolute persona at the beginning, but one whose change is more progressive and realistic. I could feel how much West came to care for the sisters and Kathleen; he teased them and had meaningful conversations with them, showing me how much he started to consider himself family to these women. Unlike Kathleen and Devon, Kathleen and West had a better friendship, a more believable friendship. In fact, I kind of started to ship Kathleen and West, even though I knew Devon and Kathleen were the focus of this particular HEA. I mean, it is a romance novel, after all.

And the ending. I knew Devon was obsessed with Kathleen from the beginning, but he never indicates in thought or action that he’s anywhere near love, other than his little obsession with her. Then, it seems, suddenly, that he realizes that he loves her and tells her almost immediately. He has absolutely no compunction about telling her he loves her because he really believes, in my opinion, that if he deigns to love her, she’ll of course love him back.

And, umm, really, I didn’t even realized Kathleen liked Devon until she says she loves him, too. It was weird.

The only compelling thing about this novel were the secondary characters. I LOVED West! Seriously, he was awesome (and a little Leo-ish). I hope he gets a strong female lead, but hopefully not one of his twin cousins, Pandora and Cassandra, who acted more like little children than the nineteen-year-olds they were described as being. This is something I’ve never seen Kleypas do, marry the cousins off to each other, so I’m hoping I’m safe with my hope of West’s eventual love being outside the family line.

Then, there’s Winterborne and the eldest sister Helen. *Sigh.* The pages told from their perspective are the most intriguing and one of the only reasons I powered through this debacle until the end. Winterborne is the very rich owner of department stores by the same name. He resents his common upbringing, especially when he compares it to the privilege of the upper classes. But he wants to marry Helen, thanks in no large part to Devon’s mercenary suggestion that Winterborne could buy her and his way into society. (Yes, this happens, though Devon does claim that Helen will have the final say. But, still.)

I could tell that Winterborne wanted to marry Helen, but that he felt he was not good enough for her. And he mistook her extreme shyness for conceit, which infuriated and humiliated him. He does not understand how sheltered she is in comparison to the women he knows in London, and he doesn’t seem to know how to be gentle with her or even consider that it might be necessary.

And, really, being so sheltered, Helen doesn’t know what she wants herself. Devon, West, and Winterborne are her first real introduction into men of that society, and I couldn’t really expect her to make any choice than the ones she did. The excerpt at the end of Cold-Hearted Rake really made me wish it was already May 31st so that I could devour their relationship in one night.

So, there it is, as painful as it was for me to admit. I’ve decided to consider this novel as a transition novel, letting us in on the world we’ll be visiting in the series but not truly essential for any other reason. I figure Kathleen and Devon will become the head of the Ravenel family in the following books, so I guess it’s good to know some of their background since they’ll definitely keep popping up in the future books.

My final opinion? Wait until after Marrying Winterborne is out to read Rake so that you can immediately delve into a good romance to ease the disappointment of it. But I would definitely read it since it has so much background for the rest of the series.

I’m feeling a romance drought lately, so if any of you lovelies have suggestions, let me know! Until then, hope your romance reading goes well!

Ta-ta for now, my dear ones!

HMichaele

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Kindle Unlimited Romances Totally Worth Paying For

If you’re anything like me, you read. A lot. So, you probably spend more than you should at the Amazon store on your Kindle. (Damn you, innovation! I used to have to get off my couch to go buy a book!) Maybe you did what I did and figured Kindle Unlimited was the way to go. Discounts on quality items! Free books! Borrowing power!

Yeah, not so much. Kindle Unlimited has an enormous amount of books to choose from, but here’s the unfortunate rub:  Most of them are crap. Crapola. Crapitty-crap. Craptastic. Crap-squared.

You get the drift. Many KU free books are really bad. Especially the romance ones. Titles like Suck It! and Mine turn off someone who wants to read an entertaining plot with few grammatical errors. (If these are actual titles of romance novels, I apologized…or maybe the author should?)

But being the discerning (ahem!) reader that I am, I have found a few KU free books that are worth the time and even the money to make them part of your permanent collection of romance, rather than just a loaner from Kindle.

Here’s some of my criteria for my keeper shelf from Kindle Unlimited books:

  1. Few, if any, grammar errors.  Umm, proper grammar, people! I’m sure your English teachers tried to instill grammar in writing, but in some cases, it just didn’t stick. It’s shocking that these people actually write books, I know, but they do. And they end up on Kindle Unlimited’s pile of, well, you know. (See second paragraph for a list.) If I come across a freebie and it has distracting issues with grammar, I lose interest because I think the author can’t write and because the constant errors pull me out of the story.
  2. Entertaining plot. Those same English teachers tried to teach about the importance of plot and how it can affect the BIG IDEAS and THEMES, probably. And guess what? Plot, while not necessarily important in a Virginia Woolf tale, is important in a romance novel, yes-siree-bob. The story needs to have a SERIES OF EVENTS, not characters that just meet, argue, screw, repeat until the end of the book. Also, it’s worse when it’s a step-brother or barbarian in a nice suit who we’re told is educated but acts like a Neanderthal.
  3. Excellent minor characters.  Good romance novels have intriguing minor characters whom we want to get to know better, like, say, in a later book, perhaps. If the minor characters are non-existent, the author has a problem because heros and heroines in romance novels don’t live on islands with just themselves and Wilson to keep them company. Additionally, if the minor characters are just imitations of the lead characters, the dialogue and plot becomes stilted without the minor characters helping the H and h analyze their feelings for each other. Don’t we all need friends, after all?

So, after many, and I do mean many, duds, here are some authors whose books are currently free on KU but are still worth the money you would pay for their books if you didn’t have KU.

  1. Cassandra Gannon. For those of you who enjoy otherworldly beings in your romance, look no further than Gannon. She has two series, A Kinda Fairy Tale and The Elemental Phases books. Her fairy tale stories take an interesting spin on the Big Bad Wolf and Beauty and the Beast. The bad characters, such as Wolfie and Beast, know who their true love is and want them desperately, but the good characters–their true loves–have no clue and have to be convinced. Then, there are the Phases books. The characters have powers, almost mythological in their development, and can control air, earth, fire, and water, with other elements mixed in, like metal and dust. The characters have “matches” who are their equal, but with their world in chaos (something big happens in the first novel), it makes it harder for them to find those matches. Plus, some of the matches are villains in the world. What’s not to love? BEST OF THEM: Beast in Shining Armor and Exile in the Water Kingdom
  2. Marysol James. I’m seriously baffled as to how ALL of her books are free. She writes the typical alpha hero, who quickly turns into a pile of mush after meeting THE ONE. It’s the women who are harder to convince, more often than not, a plot device that I adore. The men are rough and tumble, wanting to protect the heroines from the bad guys. Often though, the women are the ones with the real strength. James has several series, including the Fighting for Love, Open Skies, Dangerous Curves, and Unseen Enemy series. BEST OF THEM: Hard Curves and Enemy Outside
  3. Linsey Hall. A relatively new discovery of mine, Hall deals with immortal guardians who find the women they love and hold on. Often, the lovers have a past history that mucks up the works as the new evil rises. What is awesome is that, reminiscent of Kresley Cole, the women are just as badass as the men. A powerful women with an immortal guardian? Sign me up! BEST OF THEM: Rogue Soul and Master of Fate

These are all books that I ended up buying so that I could have them in my collection because KU is really just for borrowing. But the brilliant thing about Kindle Unlimited is that it doesn’t hurt to try. At least not your wallet…just sometimes your brain. These three authors are some whom I’ve tried and made permanent because of their quality. Regardless of whether or not you have KU, I would definitely recommend trying these budding romance authors!

 

Review: “Uprooted” by Naomi Novik

To be honest, my lovelies, I don’t know what made me pick this book up, but whatever it was, I’m thankful for it!

I was browsing NPR’s 2015 Book Concierge’s best books of the year because I like to see what I’ve read (usually not much from that list) and what I want to read (usually a lot). But this year’s contestants weren’t really drawing my eye until I got to Uprooted by Naomi Novik. It was classified under the “love stories” heading, which is totally my ideal, and the “science fiction and fantasy” heading, about which I can also totally geek out. So I bought it as my first choice from the list. I mean, witches, wizards, a dark wood, and a village girl to the rescue? Sign me up, please!

So here’s the break down:  A village, which is under the threat of the dark Wood, pays for the Dragon’s protection by giving him a seventeen-year-old village girl to take to his tower. The girl comes back 1o years later unhurt, with her pockets full of a large dowry and dreams of the capital.

Of course, it’s not really that simple. The village sits near the Wood, and the villagers, without their knowing it, are all linked to the Wood and its surrounding area, which is why the Dragon, who is not really a dragon but a wizard who is not connected to the Wood by birth, needs a girl rooted to the area to keep the Wood at bay. He has them cook and clean, using them as servants, until the year of Agnieszka.

When he chooses Agnieszka, everyone is astounded, especially Agnieszka, because her best friend Kasia is a beauty and was sure to be chosen by the Dragon. But plain, messy, mud-splattered Agnieszka is the one who has a clear silver thread of magic.

When the Dragon trains her in magic, he’s initially frustrated because of both her lack of desire to be trained and her general incompetence in magic. But when her village falls under an attack from the Wood, Agnieszka realizes that she needs the magic to  help combat the Wood’s evils.

Then, drawn to a book of magic when the Dragon is struck with corruption from the village attacks, she finds a book that is labeled useless by the Dragon. It’s not useless to Agnieszka, who immediately recognizes the organic and musical quality of the spells that so baffled the great Dragon. Turns out, Agnieszka just has a different form of magic than the structured and somewhat pedantic, but eminently powerful, Dragon. Combining their opposing styles of magic enables them to create a power that is needed when the arrogant Prince Marek decides it’s time to traverse the Wood and rescue his mother, the queen, who has been locked in the Wood for twenty years.

And the Wood: So dark, so scary, so devilish, so determined, so strategic, and so full of hate. It often seems five steps ahead of our newly minted witch, Agnieszka, and the Dragon. And it doesn’t help their cause that Agnieszka has a tendency to fall headlong into trouble without always connecting all the dots the way the Dragon does. (But to be fair, she is seventeen, while he’s over a century old.) Plus, she has to contend with the royal players, including the hasty and rash prince and his wizard sidekick, the Falcon.

The Wood is obviously an allegory for the destruction of the earth, a warning that our abuse of the natural resources from our planet will hurt us in the end and strike at humanity with the same force as the Wood does to everyone it encounters.

And, you know, lovely readers, that romance brews between Agnieszka and the Dragon, even though it is not as overt as many young adult and romance novels are. It’s subtle, and we feel how they are drawn not just to each other’s power, but also what the other brings out in their character. They need each other as sounding boards, as well as to face down the loneliness that Novik points out exists in outliving those about whom they care and love, a circumstance that the Wood understands as well.

Obviously, my dears, I’m pretty pleased with my first selection off of NPR’s 2015 Best Books list, and if you give Uprooted a chance, I think you will be, too.

Until next time, my fictional readers! Happy fantasy reading!

Ta-ta,

HMichaele