Tour’s Books Blog

September 26, 2009

Book Reviews: Two Historical Romance Reviews

There seems to be contest going on for the title of The Most Disappointing Book of the Year and a second one for Most Over-Hyped Author.  For every pleasant surprise and happy find, there are 3 mediocre entries that get disproportionate praise among reviewers or readers.  I learned long ago to use great care when taking recommendations from friends and acquaintances for restaurants and books.  Some people think Olive Garden serves great Italian food and The DaVinici Code is the best book ever.  It’s worse than what passes for pizza in some places!  OK, yes, I’m a pizza snob, but anyone who grows up around NYC is bound to be.  And yes, I can certainly be harsh about books and authors that are more popular than good.  After well over 5,000 books, you know the good stuff when you read it.  There are a lot of undeserving bestsellers out there.

Well the curse of the mediocre has been permeating historical romance for years.  I blame Avon and Amanda Quick wannabes.  Regency romance is 90% formulaic and 10% inventive.  Other historical periods have become increasingly rare.  Paranormal – a favorite genre of mine – is starting to suffer from the Curse of Generic Banal.  But some authors are just phoning it in.  Stephanie Laurens is a repeat offender.   I am underwhelmed by Diane Whiteside.   Masquerading as enthralling historicals, here are two two books that dwell beyond the Jungle of Meh at the edge of the Plains of the Best Forgotten.

  • Title: Mastered by Love
  • Author: Stephanie Laurens
  • Type: Regency Romance
  • Genre: The Duke must marry; Independent lady awes older war hero
  • Sub-genre: Last of the Bastion Club books
  • My Grade: D+ (2.5*)
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Where Available: Try your used book store

When Stephanie Lauren’s launched her mainstream historical romance career with The Devil’s Bride, the first book of the Cynster series, Regency Romance readers fell in love.  I totally enjoyed Devil’s Bride myself, but never liked another of hers quite as well.  After she wrote her variation on that theme I got BORED and have up the increasingly dull Cynster’s.  Several of her Bastion Club series – in time these occur just ahead of the Cynster series – were passable reads.  As much as I liked characters like Jack Warnfleet, they honestly were never more than just above average at best.  But one character drew me like few have over the years – Dalziel, the mysterious spy master for king and country.  I was never quite sure what vacuum his men lived in that they didn’t know who he was, or how the gossipy ladies of the on managed to keep a secret for 16 years.  Sounded kind of dubious to me.  Still, the enigmatic Dalziel was a strong, appealing character.  Dalziel is finally revealed as Royce Varisey, heir of the Duke of Wolverton, one of the most powerful dukes in England.

The Varisey’s were marcher lords since the time of the Conqueror.  Strong, fierce fighters, the kings needed these independent men to hold their borders safe.   But loyalty to their lands was always higher than loyalty to king and country.  Royce felt a strong obligation to England and his king.  Against his father’s wishes, he takes on the responsibility of spy master.  This led to a rather public break between them.  For 16 years Royce did his duty and with one exception, saw everything through to the end.  Instead of returning to Wolverton to settle the breach with his father, he gets notice of his unexpected death.  He rushes north to very different homecoming than the one he planned.

Minerva Chesterton was the orphaned daughter of the late Duchess’s best friend.  From the age of 8 she was raised at Wolverton and when Royce and his father split, she found herself slowly taking up the duties of chatelaine and finally becoming  that in fact when the old duchess died.   Even for his mother’s funeral, Royce found a way around his father’s disowning him by getting to the church using public roads and stepping directly onto hallowed ground – never setting foot on Wolverton land.  Eight years or so his junior, Minerva had a girlish crush on Royce, but the man is overwhelming.  Unaccustomed to feeling at a loss and totally unprepared for taking over Wolverton, Royce must rely on his obviously competent chatelaine for information and guidance.  Does this not quite seem right to anyone else?

That’s a classic Laurens’ setup.  Make the hero in some fashion need the heroine.  He’s strong, passionate, torn between tradition and finding his own way – and well aware that Minerva is not above ‘guiding’ him down the path she wants him to take.  Somehow, the wily, all-knowing, resourceful Dalziel becomes a very ordinary – actually rather trite – nobleman.  Gone is his mystery to be replaced by mundane things. At page 100 I was waiting for the story to get going.  Page two hundred I was still waiting and by the end I was just damn glad it was finally over and wondering how a villain so stupid escaped detection by Royce for 16 years.  Could it get any duller than this? YES!  Enter the Grande Dames of the ton.  Sigh.  The Greek chorus arrives and the story plumbs new lows.

This was not the Dalziel that readers had come to know and I cannot begin to describe my disappointment with that.  Nor is the tissue thin plot of Mastered by Love even remotely exciting.  It’s dull, clichéd, pedestrian, and unimaginative.  What a truly disappointing end to one of the more interesting characters that Laurens created.  The only upside is I got the book through Paperback Swap, so I did not contribute to anyone’s coffers by paying for this drivel.  Even looking at this book as a stand-alone without the build up that the Dalziel character had, this was a well below average Regency with no compelling central story and minimal conflict.  Mundane is a charitable description.  Save your money.

**************************************************************************************************

  • Title: The Northern Devil
  • Author: Diane Whiteside
  • Type: Historical western romance
  • Genre: Tormented hero saves heroine in jeopardy
  • Sub-genre: Dastardly villains and hot sex with best friends widow
  • My Grade: D+ (2.5*)
  • Rating: NC-17
  • Where Available: Buy it at the used book store

Diane Whiteside  comes with some some rave reviews that leave me baffled.  The Northern Devil read like a bad melodrama with repetitive, unimaginative sex scenes throw is as a distraction from the Snidely Whiplash villains that did everything but twirl the mustaches while tying the innocent heroine to the railroad tracks.  Gah!  Yet another book I’m relieved to have gotten through Paperback Swap.  Had I spent $11+ dollars on Amazon for it I would have been incensed.  Ms Whiteside seems to be testing the waters that Susan Johnson and Thea Devine have have found to shape their careers.  Steamy, sexy mainstream.  Unfortunately she does not write as well as either at their best, admittedly their older work, but both had far more original plots, characters and sex than this.

The premise seems sound enough, if less than groundbreaking.  Lucas Grainger is no ordinary Civil war soldier, she’s the younger son of the Philadelphia banking Graingers.  He goes to the wedding of his former commanding officer, a Boston Brahman scion, Elias Davis, the man to whom he respects dearly and he owes his life.  Lucas also falls for his new bride, Rachel, the daughter of an immigrant with no wealth or family connections.  As heirs to vast family wealth, both have obligations, but Lucas’ comes with family obligations he’s unwilling to meet, so he strikes out on his own and becomes very successful out west.   His Philadelphia Main Line family want him back and married to the woman of their choice because there are no male heirs from his older brother’s marriage.  He and Elias stay in touch through letters, but with fragile health thanks to injuries sustained during the war, Elis never regained his robust health.

The death of Elias puts Rachel, her mother and sister in grave circumstances.  Without children, her husbands fortune is controlled by men who have no interest in her or her well being.  One of the trustees, Albert Collins and his sleazy son, Maitland, have been stealing from her late husband’s estate to shore up their shaky fortunes that have taken a serious downturn.  Now they need her cooperation – she will marry Maitland – or else.  Rachel can’t fight them as long as her mother and sister are at risk.  She distracts the men and their hired toughs while her mother and sister flee and get safely to the Cunard lines ship to England that night.  Now she only has to try and save herself.

Rachel, Lucas, Lucas’ father, and the two Collins men all land in Chicago.  Lucas and his father continue their old battle about his marriage – something he refuses to do thanks to this ‘tragic past affair’, (eyeroll), and his vow to not marry because of the kind of man he is.  Both characters are as shallow as saucers, the ‘action’ is like something from The Perils of Pauline, or maybe Wyle E Coyote catoons.

Rachel will be brutally raped by the evil Maitland Collins, but instead she clobbers him and escapes seeking refuge with Lucas.  Ignite attraction, roll sex scenes – repeat.  Head the trains in a desperate race to beat each other and the snows to a mine.  Meanwhile, the elder Graingers are grimly determined to get their way on marriage.  Lucas’ self adsorbed mother was such a shrew I’m amazed no one caused a convenient accident for her.  Big family revelation – Lucas married Rachel – “I’ve been blind, marry me!”.  Daddy is estranged from mommy and reconciles with Lucas.  “I’ve been blind, forgive me!”  Cue kiddies.  HEA

The sex scenes, an integral part of this genre of romance, were laughably repetitious – I mean word for word repetitious!  The characters could make angst out of overcooked steak and tragedy out of hangnails.  The villains were so over-the-top they were actually inadvertently laughable.  The resourceful heroine, Rachel, had some redeeming qualities as did Lucas, just not enough to carry the book.  There’s plenty of action, but honestly, not much substance anywhere.  It was such a perfect storm of cookie cutter characters and melodramatic plot and outrageous over-the-top villains, I was amazed at how many people loved it.  If this is ‘good’ Diane Whiteside, I think I’ll avoid the average.  What’s really unbelievable is this book is still wish listed on Paperback Swap.  WHY???????????  To think I could have used that time to clean my closets instead!

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1 Comment »

  1. I agree with you and not to be arrogant but it is my hope to change that in the very near future.I love the genre and want nothing more than to share the love by writing a brilliant novel that will set aside all the clichés and promote the historical novel genre.

    Comment by Simone — October 15, 2009 @ 8:14 pm | Reply


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