Category Archives: Romance

Thorn Jack – Katherine Harbour (Night and Nothing#1)


(This book, or part of it, is set at Halloween.)

This is a great read set through the month of October with the climax on Halloween..  ‘Thorn Jack’ captures the feel of Autumn. The brisk cold has the wind ripping leaves off trees. The Fae or Others, and their dead brought to life by the fairy folk, play their part.  Add a Teind, a pact that must be satisfied for the Fae and their collected spirits to live another 100 years and the story starts to get interesting.  Now, include a woman starting her first year at college in the sleepy Northeastern American town of Fair Hollow.  After her sister and her mother took their own lives in California Finn and her father fled to heal from the loss.  It’s a pretty fascinating concept, right?  It also is a retelling of the old Scottish ballad Tam Lin.  This book felt created especially for me based off my own personal interests.  It is very good but it is also a book that fades in and out of greatness.  The first near half of the book is close to perfect, however.  Katherine Harbour has a way with words and created a beautiful world mixing the normal with otherness.  It reminded me a bit of Charles De Lint’s writings.

Serafina Sullivan, better known as Finn, came to Fair Hollow with her father, the professor of myth and folklore, to escape constant reminders of the loss of her sister, Lily Rose. Someone, who we learn about through small portions of her journal.  Finn and her father move into her late grandmothers house covered in carvings/pictures of fairies and anthropomorphic animals.  It is a true example of the eccentric town that contains several other boarded up mansions belonging to old families of wealth and fortune.  It has been a haven for the art/theatre community for years.  Finn’s college takes liberal and unconventional to new levels, but the town love for celtic tradition appears to be more than nostalgia for lineage and roots. Finn and the close friends she makes get drawn into Fae mischief.  Finn turns the eye of a Fairy Queen and her Jack.  Their interest, and the why behind the interest is what this book is about.  When Finn sees ties to the Fae in her sister’s journal it causes her to unabashedly rush down the rabbit hole in search of answers.  The fact that she is attracted to the Jack only draws her further.

I recommend you read this book rather than listen to it.  Kate Rudd narrates it and while she has done very well with other books, such as The Chronos Files Series by Rysa Walker, I preferred my own interpretation of Harbour’s writing.  Listen to the snippet available prior to purchasing the audio version and make your own assessment.

The first half of this book I could not put down.  Harbour’s writing is picturesque and I adored the originality.  I recognize this is a retelling, and that Tam Lin itself is a romantic story of a woman who tricks the Fairy Queen to release her love/the Queen’s Jack from her clutches.  My problem is I was so engrossed in Finn’s story of finding out what happened to her sister, who committed suicide and the reasons behind it, I was frustrated at being drawn away from that portion of the story. Ultimately, however, Harbour had to develop the tale of how Finn grows a new heart in the dead Jack.  (A Jack is an Other, who at the bidding of the Fairy Queen, causes people to fall in love with them in the pursuit of mischief and.)  The paranormal romance is not bad, but it did not have the same teeth that Finn’s search of the truth about her sister’s death has.  The romance is predictable and typical of current YA/NA writing.  The character interaction of Finn with her friend’s Sylvie and Christie loses its depth and realness at this point as well.  I belive Harbour has great potential as an author. I hope the next stories in the series of Night and Nothing can be the level of the first half of this book all the way through.   I believe Harbour can do it and I have been left curious.  I’m assuming the stories will not be about Finn and Jack since this story feels so complete.

I recommend you pick this up is you like stories about the Fae.  This is very good at leaning on real lore regarding the Fae from Celtic origins with interesting quotes from Shakespeare, Yeats, and Lady Gregory.  It is definitely New Adult and paranormal romance but it is interesting.  As I said I am interested in Harbour’s other work.


Fifty Shades of Grey – E L James; Making a case for vicarious learning

Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades, #1)

I did not plan to read ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’ I heard the initial hype when the book first came out and even watched an interview with E L. James on 60 minutes.  I was intrigued as to why so many people were picking it up.  In the interview she discussed the books appeal.   The book is about, Anastasia Steele, an unworldly soon to be college graduate who interviews and enters into a relationship with a powerful businessman by the name of Christian Grey.   Grey wants Anastasia to engage in a dominant/submissive BDSM relationship. E. L. James started writing the book as a hobby because she found a desire for escape from responsibilities and decisions in her own life.  She is a working mother of children with varying interests that required ferrying them from one activity to the next.  With that and juggling her work, husband, and household duties she was overwhelmed.   James believes the appeal of the book comes from a common need to escape among women having to be super mom and the associated pressures.  The new fantasy is someone taking care of your needs – not having to worry about having to wash your clothes, having to cook, find and purchase the right car, make the payment, etc.  She didn’t expect to publish the book let alone it’s success.  Her lack of an expectation to publish explains the truly horrible writing.  As a result, I cut her a little slack on that.  At the time I decided it wasn’t for me and dismissed it

With the movie coming out I saw and read a few of the critiques on the book.  Some stated the book condones and encourages domestic violence.  A good and balanced example is Love Hurts: What we learn from Beauty and the Beast, Twilight, and Fifty Shades of Grey  .  Others stated it was a misrepresentation of  BDSM relationships/community.  An interesting piece is A Submissive Reviews- Fifty Shades of Grey. Others railed against it being so poorly written.  Anything wildly successful receives backlash – some merited and some not.  I found myself getting angry.  Why were women reading this book and supporting it? What did it say about women and our current mental state? Was it really just pornography? I saw facebook posts encouraging people not to watch the movie and call it out for what it was.  I found myself getting vocal and trashing the book.  Yes.  I did.  Then I questioned how a book, a book I had never read, was making me so angry.  This had positive and negative results.

I decided to read it.  I needed know more about it if I was to pass judgment.  My husband says I manipulated myself and I agree.  More on that later.

Anastasia Steele, as a favor to her room mate, interviews  the powerful Christian Grey.  Her roommate is sick, and while the interview is exceptionally important to her, she can’t go.   Ana meets the fantastically successful and rich Christian Grey.  Despite Christian’s clear interest in her, it takes a while for her to believe he could like her.  She is insecure.  On the first real date Christian proposes a relationship with Ana.  He provides a non- disclosure agreement before he will discuss anything, but once signed he provides her a contract requesting a BDSM relationship.  He would be the dominant and she the submissive for a period of three months.  Ana does not understand what half the language in the contract is referring to.  Overwhelmed, she shyly explains she is a virgin and doesn’t get it.  She and Christian rapidly proceed into a sexual  relationship.  He works to convince her to enter into a BDSM relationship while she tries to convince him into having a more traditional relationship of boyfriend/girlfriend.  While they both want one another they want intrinsically different things.  She wants love and he wants sex.

This is not a new story.    It is one of a powerful, damaged, and dangerous man pursuing an innocent and insecure younger woman.  Christian, despite saying he is bad for her, pursues her.   Ana states she is afraid of Christian.  He stalks her.  She doesn’t want him to hurt her and is afraid of the punishments listed in the contract.  When he asks her to attempt the behaviors of a submissive role before she dismisses it she agrees to please him.  She wants to understand him but ultimately wants to fix him so he can love her. Due to the NDA she is not able to discuss the sexual requests and relationship with her friends or family.  They comment on how unhappy he makes her and how much she cries since meeting him. Her very first sexual experiences include spanking and whipping with a riding crop and/or belt. There is also a scene in which Ana says no to sex but Christian continues.   While Ana is afraid she also enjoys it.  This does not mean there isn’t a problem with behavior.  Children have been found to enjoy sexual activity when they have been molested.  This does not mean that it makes the behavior of the adult more acceptable.  The adult knows they are taking advantage of the child and their innocence.  Likewise, Christian is taking advantage of Ana’s innocence.  She is not a child but he is older, clearly more experienced, and guiding her first sexual experiences. BDSM does not encourage people to engage in behaviors they aren’t comfortable with and/or ready for.  Christian’s behavior of introducing a virgin to BDSM is not reflective of, and has been questioned by, that community.  Both of their behaviors are indicative of domestic abuse.

Erotica is more focused on sex than the relationship while romance is the opposite .   It is graphic and in some ways pornographic because it is not focused on being artistic.  It’s purpose is to be titillating with a little bit of story.  There is nothing wrong with that but I would categorize ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ as erotica since the relationship is secondary.  It also isn’t unique.  It is a recycled story of a young virginal lady being kidnapped by a dangerous pirate.  He has his sordid way with her…but they fall in love.  There are many books like it.

It is poorly written.  It was painful to read.  I couldn’t read another, “Oh my,” “Holy Crap,” “Geez,” or reference Christian with the honorific “Christian Grey.” At some point I wanted E. L. James to refer to him as ‘the king’ or ‘the captain’ so I didn’t have to read, “Holy Crap! Christian Grey is in my room!”  “Holy Shit! Christian Grey wants to go on a date with me!”  I get it.  They both think he is better than her.  Also, neither Christian or Ana are all that likable.  Truly, the only attractive thing about Christian was his money and that is not enough.

So, what did I learn from this book.  I spent to much time and energy on it.   The book did present an abusive relationship in a provocative and desirable light.  It ends with her leaving him, which helps, but I understand she returns to him in the next books.  I will not be reading them.  It was hard enough to get through this one.  I listened to the narration by Becca Battoe, which was quite funny at points.  I’m sure she had difficulty reading it without laughing.  It, however, was also boring.  It wasn’t extreme enough to be exciting and it wasn’t written well enough to be enjoyable.  It is truly grey.  While erotica is not my genre of choice I am sure it is not supposed to put you to sleep.  To get through it I would listen to ‘Contact’ by Carl Sagan at the points I found myself not paying attention.  Ultimately what I learned was I didn’t need to read it.  I knew I didn’t want to read it before I ever started it and everything written here has been said by someone else.  Periodically, in my life I question my strong opinions/judgments.  Am I really being fair?  Have I done enough research? When I was 18 all the mothers I knew told me and my friends not to date frat guys.  My first party a frat guy asked me out.  I said I wasn’t interested.  We’d been discussing my job and the life skills class I taught to teenagers about stereotyping.  He stated I wasn’t being fair and stereotyping him based off his belonging to a fraternity.  Needless to say I did go out with him and he was the frat guy that proved the rule.  I know I was young and gullible.  Funny enough, Ana also engaged in the punishment activities Christian wanted to her to do because she had never experienced them first hand.  I don’t think you need to be beaten to know you don’t want to be.  Likewise, I don’t think I needed to read this book to know it would be something I didn’t like.  Sometimes its okay to learn vicariously.  I don’t need to get burned to know not to play with fire.  On the other side of the coin it is not nearly as upsetting as I thought it would be.  I allowed myself to be more angry than I needed to be.

The Casquette Girls – Alys Arden

The Casquette Girls

In Alys Arden’s book ‘The Casquette Girls,” New Orleans has been decimated by a hurricane and most of the city is evacuated.  Only a few brave souls have returned.  The roads and electricity are still down, and continued challenges getting milk, meat, and fresh food.  Help is promised but slow, and all the dead have not been cleared from the condemned buildings and houses.  There are few Police and First Responders.  Looting, and crime in general, is mounting, and a rash of murders are occurring that don’t seem to be hurricane related.

This is the town, Adele Le Moyne, returns to with her father.  Her father runs a well know and well patroned bar in the French Quarter.  She is a 16 year-old brunette, who works at a bakery of repute and goes to a High School for the Arts.  She has just returned after a forced evacuation to France that landed her with her mother she has not seen since she was young.  She is desperate to stay in New Orleans.  This is young adult fiction, and it is paranormal YA that includes vampires, witches, and werewolves on the fringe.  Arden does a fantastic job of describing New Orleans and is able to  juxtapose the city pre-hurricane and post hurricane.

To be honest, I am a bit weary of teenage paranormal romances, especially ones with vampires.  I also, however, did read ‘The Twilight Series.’  They are not my favorite books but I enjoyed them for what they were.  What got my attention her was the intriguing tie in to the historical story of The Casquette Girls.   I wanted to see what Arden did with it, and she did pretty well.  At one point in the book I got a bit unfairly annoyed and felt my eyes rolling back in my head at the romance, but I had to remember this is about a teenage girl.  A big part of being a teenager is dealing with your feelings of attraction in a generally awkward manner.  It comes with the territory.  Is she attracted to a vampire? Yes.  Is she attracted to  a witch.  Yes.  The story’s main focus, however,  is not on romance but on a young witch coming into her powers with a rash of murders that relate to the story of  the infamous Casquette Girls.  The minimal romance is just a bit of frosting to an intriguing mystery.

If you are unfamiliar, The Casquette Girls were orphans from France Louis XIV sent across the ocean  to marry the young men of means and aristocrats he had enticed into settling New Orleans. La Nouvelle-Orleans up to that point had been settled by criminals and prostitutes.  The name “Casquette Girls” came from the fact that the trunks or baggage that carried their dresses and dowry were in the shape of burial caskets.  The Catholic Church came to the city to set up schools specifically for young women of any race at the same time.  Their convent was the home to The Casquette Girls until they could find suitable marriages.  As you can imagine this was not the safest of situations for young girls.

I am trying not to give spoilers but I will say this.  The book is fairly well written.  I enjoyed the modern and historical story of The Casquette Girls.  I was pleased that Adele is not a frail girl in need of saving.  I will say there was a point I got disgusted and nearly abandoned the book when I thought she was going to be “saved by the vampire,” but was pleased with how Arden resolved the story. I recently read an article that many young YA heroines are white brunettes because blonde’s are too trite and girls of other ethnicities to risky.  I can’t speak to that but I will say there does seem to be a  trend, and yes this book does have a young brunette heroine. Overall, I think Arden did a good job, and I would recommend it to teenagers or an adult in need of light reading.

Dragonfly in Amber: Outlander #2 – Diana Gabaldon

Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander, #2)

The first time I “read” Outlander I listened to Davina Porter’s unabridged narration and loved it. I read Dragonfly in Amber the first time and was disappointed. It was good but it wasn’t as good as Outlander and parts were honestly irritating.  When Claire and Jaime reach France the court intrigue and sexual interactions started to grate.  There is a lot of drama between Jamie and Claire but also regarding their ability and decision to sway the capricious Bonnie Prince Charlie.  The sexual interaction felt excessive and while Gabaldon was just as detailed in various liaisons in Outlander it felt like it didn’t take anything from the story.  This is a romance absolutely, and I don’t snub romances, but the level of storytelling wasn’t as strong  as in her previous book.

I tried to reread it because I felt I had missed parts of the story but gave up –  because I wasn’t paying attention and just could not get through it. I thought if I listened to Davina Porter’s interpretation it would be better. It was, but not as much as I hoped. I was able to finish it and got the information I needed, but it’s just not as good as some of Gabaldon’s other books. This is what I will say. Some parts are fantastic, others you just have to get through. You do, however, have read this so you can enjoy her other books. Davina Porter improves the experience and I would say the audible version is the way to go.

*Just so you know, the third book Voyager, is totally worth it.

Shadow of Night: All Souls Trilogy Book 2 – Deborah Harkness

Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy, #2)

My review is more of a three and a half. This sequel to the Discovery of Witches is very different from the first and may be a bit difficult for readers to get into. The first half spends a lot of time getting to know Matthew’s, now Matthew Royden’s, friends in the School of Night. It also spends a lot of time with Matthew and his friends acclimating Diana to what it means to be female in old England. The beginning is hard to stomach for those of us who got used to a strong Diana in A Discovery of Witches. She is not strong in the beginning, partially because she is learning her surroundings from Matthew which reinforced the strong gender roles of that time, the second reason is Matthew’s friends don’t spend a lot of time with women. Diana does reassert herself later, but it grates on your nerves, and quite honestly I think it is meant to. The problem with this is there is so much of the history of old england and gender roles it may turn off some readers before they get to the part where she finds her place in old England. The other problem is for all the set up the history seems a bit basic for Harkness’s level of knowledge.

When Diana goes to France and meets Philippe, Matthew’s father, it gets much better. It’s intriguing and Diana finds her voice. Diana’s study of magic with the witches of London is likewise fantastic. It is a good book. Get through the first third of the book, you still have to read it for reference to the rest of the book, but it is worth it.

I read this the first time and waited to write a review because I felt somewhat disappointed. This I’m sure is partially my fault because I was so excited for it. I listened to Jennifer Ikeda’s version recently to try to see if with time I could give it a more fair review. Jennifer Ikeda does a fine job though I did not like her voice for Gallowglass at all. She does not take away from the story, however. I have to say the book is much better after having taken some time. I love the appearance of her father, her interaction with the London witches, Philippe and Diana’s relationship. There is much to savor. It is a good read and I look forward to the third.

Outlander – Diana Gabaldon

Outlander (Outlander, #1)

With the TV series set to come out the summer of 2014. I decided I wanted to read/listen to this book again because it had been some time since I had read it. I have read and listened to this book previously. Yes, it’s that good, and now let me explain why this is a favorite and why I prefer to listen to Davina Porter narrate than for me to sit and read it.
Outlander is the story of an English war nurse who after World War II returns to Scotland where she and her husband first got married. They are there on vacation and while Frank, her husband she has not seen in 7 years, is a wonderful loving man he is also a history professor and much obsessed with researching his family tree. She stumbles across a stone circle in a new desire to study botany (a hobby to keep her busy now she does not have many wounded men to care for) This stone circle pulls her back in time before the Scottish rebellion with Prince Charlie. She is clearly an outsider and gets pulled into a political web between the Scottish and British. You see Claire, an amazingly strong female character, deal with the time she has been brought back to and how she deals with the small amount of knowledge of the time she has, and what the reality compared to the history is.

This is a wonderful book. It brings the rawness of the history to life. It is not sugar-coated. It is well researched. You can rely on the history drawn in this book, the details are accurate, and you can smell and taste Scotland from Diana Gabaldon’s descriptions.

A bit of a warning. This is definitely a romance. The sexual material is described in as much detail as the rest of the book. This is not simple period erotica because there is a well researched and well-formed story but it is explicit. It also does deal with sexual violence towards both men and women. It is not biased. Sex is both positive and negative in the book and is not a tool to degrade women but it is a reality of the time and handles situations that would have been dealt with in the historical time. Likewise, there is a lot of violence and some profanity. There is a reason the TV show is being produced by Starz and not another network like FOX or NBC.

It is a wonderful book and Davina Porter handles the varied accents and character differentiation with ease. I love listening to her read this book. I can not create the beautiful accents she does in my own head. She does a masterful job that heightens the overall experience. Enjoy this book.

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