Posts Tagged With: romance

“The Lemon Orchard” by Luanne Rice

I received a review copy of The Lemon Orchard by Luanne Rice from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Lemon Orchard is the story of two people from very different socioeconomic classes who share a bond of grief.  Julia’s daughter died in a car accident, and Roberto’s daughter was lost on the night they came to America when he was captured by Border Patrol.  When Julia house-sits for her wealthy aunt and uncle, she and Roberto meet, fall in love, and begin to finally heal.

Even though I finished reading this one almost three weeks ago, I’ve been putting off writing the review because I have such mixed feelings about the book.  I absolutely loved the first half of the story, and had a hard time putting it down.  Julia and Roberto were a cute couple, and each filled a void in the other ones life.  I wanted them to be happy together, and was glad to see their relationship develop.  As the book progressed, my opinion began to change, and I felt like the The Lemon Orchard began to reenforce the same stereotypes that it sought to dispel.  Julia and Roberto initially bonded over shared grief, but they never had any common interests, experiences, or discussions about any other subject.  They slept together and went out a few times, but the relationship seemed superficial.  We didn’t see Roberto’s character in any other light than a grieving father or Julia’s lover.  He’s interesting only because of his relationships to others, but aside from that is a flat character.

Roberto had very little agency in the search for his daughter, which is understandable considering that he can’t exactly be calling border patrol agents to talk about what they might have seen in the desert all those years ago, but at the same time, Julia could have been more open about what she was doing.  It seemed like they weren’t equal partners in the relationship.  The rich white lady did everything.  At the same time, we see people in Julia’s social circle stressing that the relationship will never last because they are just too different, and that “unions between educated women and the help never lasted.”  That line infuriated me.  I wanted a story that challenged that assumption, and after my initial excitement during the first half of the book, it was an extreme disappointment.  Oh, and the ending?  Without going into any details, I’ll say that it pissed me off.  (My boyfriend can attest to the fact that I was running around the apartment yelling “It’s such bullshit!” over and over for a good twenty minutes after finishing the book.)

I wanted to love this one, but it just didn’t work for me as a whole.  There was a lot of potential, and other readers may enjoy the romance and the mystery of the search for Roberto’s daughter, so don’t let my review dissuade you if it sounds like something you’d be interested in.

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Categories: Fiction | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

“Ruby” by Jeffe Kennedy

My final class of graduate school is a course on genre fiction, and as part of an assignment, I’m writing a paper on erotica.  After working on it for a while this afternoon, I decided that my brain hurt, and that maybe I should read some erotica instead of just researching it.

Conveniently, I had also just won a copy of Jeffe Kennedy’s “Ruby” from a giveaway during Armchair BEA.

Danielle Sosna is a type-A, ambitious young woman who coordinates photo shoots for magazines.  She’s just been offered a coveted job working for Vogue in Paris.  Her last job before she leaves takes her to New Orleans, where she meets Bobby Prejean, a famous Cajun chef.  A battle of wills in his restaurant leads to a whirlwind BDSM affair as Prejean shows Dani all that New Orleans has to offer.

Kennedy does a fantastic job building her setting, incorporating the flavors and aesthetics of New Orleans into her story.  Prejean’s dishes sound heavenly and decadent, and his dates with Dani are filled with masquerades and revelry.

I’m very impressed.  It’s hard to find romance or erotica that work for me, because I need to see characters that aren’t ditzy, possess a modicum of intelligence, and respect each other.  Here, the characters are smart, sexy, and self-possessed.

Prejean and Dani’s entire relationship is based on respect, both for each other and for their own limits.  The main conflict/drama in the story is related to the workplace and not the dynamic between the two lovers.  That’s refreshing, and absolutely necessary in a book that explores a kinkier relationship.  One of the (many) things that I was disappointed with when reading Fifty Shades of Grey was the fact that the characters had an inherently dysfunctional relationship, and Christian Grey didn’t seem like the kind of person one could fully trust.  Prejean is the opposite–he pays careful attention to Dani’s level of comfort and her limitations, and it allows both of them to fully explore their desires in a responsible way.  Oh, and the best part?  The two of them can actually hold a conversation with each other outside the bedroom.  I like the relationships between my fictional characters to be based on more than just mind-blowing sex.  Dani and Prejean’s personalities complemented each other perfectly.

When I started reading “Ruby,” I was looking for a quick and relaxing read that would help relieve some stress.  Jeffe Kennedy delivers, and I can’t wait to read the other books in the series.

Categories: Erotica, Fiction, Romance | Tags: , , , , | 11 Comments

“Warlord” by Elizabeth Vaughan

A few days ago, I was pretty stressed out and got myself hooked on an escapist fantasy romance trilogy called The Chronicles of the Warlands by Elizabeth Vaughan.  The first book, Warprize, told the story of a princess named Xylara who became the Warprize of a barbarian warlord named Keir.  In the second book, Warsworn, Xylara and Keir embark on a journey to the heart of the Firelands to confirm Xylara’s status, only to be confronted with Plague.

In this installment, the two lovebirds continue their journey to the Heart of the Plains, but the outbreak of Plague has caused Keir’s tribe to become suspicious of Xylara and of city life.  They begin to feel that the alliance of two very different cultures might destroy their very civilization, and will stop at nothing to stop what they believe to be the spread of a great evil.  Xylara and Keir must fight for their relationship to be taken seriously and to demonstrate that learning about other ways of life can be a strength to both Xylara’s people and his own.

I think that this book is far better than the last, which suffered a bit from middle book syndrome.  Xylara and Keir’s travels into the Firelands meant that this book had far more action than the first two of the series, which was definitely a good thing.  There were many times that I forgot that this book was supposed to be “romance,” but instead was caught up in it the same way that I would be in any fantasy novel.

The way that Vaughan focused on the idea of uniting two different cultures and used it as one of the central themes of the novel allowed it to be escapist while not entirely mindless.  I was also pleased to see that Fireland society was GLBT-friendly, as that’s not particularly common in fantasy novels (…not to rant about A Song of Ice and Fire, but it’s a bit unfair that Dany can have dragons but poor Renly can’t come out of the closet).

There’s one more book in this series, although I don’t feel the need to read it immediately, as it focuses on a different set of characters.

As a whole, I would recommend The Chronicles of the Warlands for light or escapist reading.  The series has a strong romance element, but the romance is set against the backdrop of a larger fantasy/medieval world and the convergence of two distinct lifestyles.  This isn’t the type of book that I normally read, but I had been having a very stressful week and found the books to be highly enjoyable and a good way to relax.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Romance | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Warsworn” by Elizabeth Vaughan

This week I’ve been in the mood to read something mindlessly entertaining.  After finishing “Warprize” by Elizabeth Vaughan, I decided to pick up the sequel.

The story begins as our scantily clad heroine, Xylara, feels a bit homesick, despite being hopelessly head-over-heels in love with her Warlord.  In order to be officially confirmed as his Warprize, the two must travel to the Heart of the Plains.  However, Xylara’s penchant for providing medical care to everyone in need overshadows her usual common sense, and so the Firelanders must face an unknown enemy–the Plague.  Meanwhile, tensions within the camp and a fear of the unknown threaten to upset the Warlord’s power.

This book isn’t quite as lighthearted as the last one, and some characters do die, but as a whole it still does convey a feel-good message of hope.  I definitely think that of the two books, “Warprize” was better, but I was still caught up in the story, and I like the way that Xylara and her Warlord become closer as a couple throughout the book despite realizing each other’s weaknesses.  It’s nice to take a story beyond the initial happily-ever-after and see how the couple progresses to face new challenges.  I was also glad to be able to see more of the Fireland culture, especially their celebratory traditions.  One of my favorite little details in the story was the way that Xylara taught the Firelanders to play chess, and the way that they changed the rules and adapted it to make it more suitable to their warrior culture.

If this were just a romance novel, I don’t think that I’d find this series as addicting as I have, but I’m a fan of the medieval setting and I love the way that Vaughan is able to build another culture that isn’t just a copy/paste version of an existing one.  There’s enough action and conflict to keep the story interesting, and Xylara and her Warlord make a cute couple.

While the book is far from perfect, the story is entertaining and fun.  I tend to have difficulty finding good escapist novels, but so far this series is working out well for me.  I’ll be back to my usual types of reviews in a few days, but for now light reading is a nice break from the routine.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Romance | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Warprize” by Elizabeth Vaughan

I’ve been having one of those weeks where nothing seems to work out quite the way I want it to.  Between getting sick (I’m finally better now!) and other general life stress, I needed something mindless and fun to read to relax.  After browsing around for a bit on my Kindle, I found “Warprize,” by Elizabeth Vaughan.  It is the first book in the Chronicles of the Warlands series.

Our heroine, Xylara, is both a princess and a healer.  When her kingdom is defeated by the barbarian Firelanders, part of the terms of the surrender are that she be given to the Warlord as his Warprize.  Resigning herself to slavery in order to save her people, Xylara begins to live with the Firelanders, only to discover that there is far more to their culture than meets the eye.  Oh, and of course the Warlord is tall, dark, and handsome…

I liked the way that Vaughan was able to focus on the cultural differences between Xylara’s people and the Firelanders, who have both male and female warriors and drink a coffee-like beverage called “kavage.”  A warrior society of caffeine addicts is pretty fun.  I also thought it was interesting that the author chose to keep Xylara in a very traditional feminine role throughout the story–she doesn’t fight, isn’t scheming for power, etc., but at the same time is able to play a pivotal role in preserving peace and acting as a bridge between two very different societies.

Although the book is a romance, there are no annoying love triangles, and the sex scenes aren’t terribly awkward.  In fact, I don’t think that there are more than one or two sex scenes in the book, which I wouldn’t have guessed from the book’s description.  The story reminded me a bit of the Dany/Khal Drogo dynamic in Game of Thrones, except with less rape and eating-of-horse-hearts.  It’s a very non-stressful story, and it’s about the closest thing to a real romance novel that I can handle.  While the writing isn’t perfect, it’s tolerable.

This isn’t a high work of literature, nor is it meant to be.  It’s a guilty-pleasure fantasy romance novel featuring a scantily clad heroine and ends with a happily-ever-after, which is exactly what I needed.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Romance | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

“The Rowan” by Anne McCaffrey

Although “The Rowan,” by Anne McCaffrey, is a science fiction novel, it reminds me a bit of a fairy tale.  It just has that “once upon a time” magical feel to it.

The story is set in a distant future where telepathy and psychokinesis have been scientifically proven to exist among a small percentage of the population.  These individual Talents are used to transport goods and shuttles from one planet to another.

A freak accident destroys a mining camp on the planet of Altair.  One child survives who happens to have more Talent than anyone else on the planet, and every remotely sensitive person on Altair hears the psychic broadcast of her shrieks of terror and unhappiness until she is found.  Known only as The Rowan, the child grows up and learns to develop her talent, eventually becoming the head of the Callisto space station.  One day, she hears a psychic call for help from a guy named Jeff whose planet happens to be under attack by aliens.  She and Jeff end up becoming involved in a cute interstellar romance while saving the world.

While the book involves a romance, it isn’t an obnoxious one.  I was a bit afraid that it would be when I picked up the book, mostly because of the terrible cover and the Harlequin-esque description on the back of the book.  It wasn’t like that at all.  The romance was secondary and was just a part of telling The Rowan’s story, and it seems to me that the publisher was trying to reach a demographic that would normally be intimidated by science fiction by playing up other elements of the novel.

The more Anne McCaffrey books I read, the more I am impressed with her writing.  She’s the kind of storyteller that makes you forget about your own surroundings and become immersed in other worlds, and at the same time her stories tend to be somewhat heartwarming and not at all depressing.  I’d recommend “The Rowan” to anyone looking for some good escapist sci-fi.

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I read this book as a part of The 2012 Science Fiction Experience hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings and the Speculative Fiction Challenge hosted by Baffled Books.

Categories: Fiction, Romance, Sci Fi | Tags: , , , , , | 15 Comments

“The Courtesan’s Secret” by Claudia Dain

Generally, I avoid romance novels like the plague.  I avoid romance novels even more than I would avoid the plague, as the plague doesn’t generally pop up in my day to day life.  However, every now and again I realize that I’m in a situation where I have to choose between a romance novel or no book at all.  I read this during one of those times and was pleasantly surprised.

Claudia Dain’s work is better than most romance novels because she doesn’t take herself too seriously and has a sense of humor.  Her writing pokes fun at the typical regency novel.  I started laughing when the heroine Louisa solicited help from a prostitute named Sophia in order to retrieve a missing “pearl necklace,” as well as to get her crush to notice her.  Of course, Sophia has a different suitor in mind for her, and making sure Louisa is ruined is all a part of her master plan.

I was impressed that this novel wasn’t terrible.  It’s not exactly high literature, but it’s good for something mindless to read while sitting by the pool.  The characters are better than typical romance stock, and didn’t make me want to strangle them.  That is saying a lot for a romance novel.

I’ve often wondered whether it was possible to find a romance novel that is well-written, and where the female character actually has a brain and isn’t a complete dolt, and where the author doesn’t use sad sexual euphemisms that make me want to chuck the book across the room.  I’ve given up on that, but “The Courtesan’s Secret” may be about as close as one can realistically get.

Categories: Fiction, Romance | Tags: , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

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