In the past year, I’ve read a ton of romance novels. I’ve plowed through the backlist of Anne Gracie and Miranda Neville. I’ve re-read everything by Cecilia Grant. I’ve enjoyed an old, adorable traditional series called “The Poor Relation” by Marion Chesney. I’ve even rekindled an old guilty pleasure, Highland romances, by reading some Tanya Anne Crosby!
Here’s my main problem: I just don’t have the time to patiently dissect everything I’ve read. Trying to write thoughtful critiques takes as much concentration as writing an original narrative. (Seriously. I’m not kidding.) Since I’m still in the middle of writing a novel—and being horribly bogged down by the process—well, sometimes my brain feels like it’s ready to explode. One day, a forensics crew is just going to scrape my remains off my laptop. “She died of spontaneous verbal combustion,” they will conclude. Death by too many words.
Anyway, enough of my excuses. Here are two reviews that previously appeared in The San Francisco Book Review. These versions are slightly longer and more detailed than the original versions.
Loretta Chase’s Vixen in Velvet (2014)
Vixen in Velvet is the third installment in Loretta Chase’s popular Dressmaker series. It features the youngest Noirot sister, the redheaded Leonie, who struggles to keep the family business afloat despite the absence of her siblings. While Marcelline wrestles with morning sickness and Sophie’s on an extended honeymoon, Leonie overextends herself with running Maison Noirot. She does everything from the juggling the accounts to promoting the shop. Leonie doesn’t have time for neither leisure nor casual flirtations.
Lord Lisbourne thinks Leonie should make time for him. Lisbourne’s only in London to look after his famous cousin, Lord Swanton, a sentimental poet with a rabid female following. As Swanton embarks on a round of public poetry readings, Lisbourne can’t help but pursue the beautiful businesswoman who ostensibly attends the events to attract new clientele. When a scandalmonger tries to destroy the reputations of Maison Noirot and Swanton, Leonie and Lisbourne are drawn together to fight the slander.
Aside from the main plot, there’s also an ugly duckling subplot and a bet about a Botticelli painting. Vixen in Velvet has classic Chase plotting, with many threads expertly woven into a shimmering whole.
Leonie’s an independent and sensible heroine while Lisbourne isn’t as dumb as some other Chase heroes. He’s devious and witty. He’s a real pleasure to follow as the action unfolds.
While I felt that the first two Dressmaker novels lacked the sparkle of Chase’s earlier novels, I keep reading because I’m interested in the development of Lady Clara Fairfax, a supporting character prominent in the series. While Vixen in Velvet originally felt like a detour from the story I wanted, it’s still an entertaining and amusing diversion, full of hilariously bad poetry and scintillating romance.
heat meter: four chilies final rating: borrow
Hungry for More: Romantic Fantasies for Women (2014)
Edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel
Hungry for More: Romantic Fantasies for Women has a subtitle that will lure readers who are bored with traditional romances but feel too skittish for BDSM narratives. Yet the twenty-one short stories vary so much in quality and specific kink. While there’s definitely something for everyone, on the other hand, there’s probably something that makes a reader feel squeamish.
The anthology explores everything from bondage, ménage à trois, and bukake. It also tackles some gray-area fantasies, like voyeurism (Tiffany Reisz’s “Bringing the Heat”) and consensual sex with a high school boy (Valerie Alexander’s “Jailbait Torch Song”). In the hands of lesser writers, these topics can be problematic. Then again, maybe it wouldn’t be erotica if it didn’t offend someone.
Greta Christina’s “Craig’s List” is the story that I found more terrifying than sexy. The main character seems hell-bent on self-destruction and I found the ending ominous. It made me wish the stories were classified by kink or labelled with trigger warnings, so I would know which ones to skip.
While it’s not as hardcore as Anne Rice’s “classic” Sleeping Beauty Trilogy, somehow I felt entirely too vanilla for this collection. For the curious and the adventurous though, Hungry for More is worth picking up, especially if you want to know what other women secretly think when they see an oversized kitchen whisk.
heat rating: five chilies final rating: borrow