Unfinished Business by Suzanne Forster

Unfinished Business, Suzanne Forster, Harlequin, 2005

2.5 Stars

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Book – Unfinished Business by Suzanne Forster

Suzanne Forster was an author I’d read before Unfinished Business. This book arrived in one of my monthly subscriptions to category romances. Receiving it was a pleasant surprise, as I’d enjoyed Foster’s previous works. Sucks for me that this one was not as fun as what I’d read before.

Back in the early 2000s I briefly subscribed to Harlequin’s Blaze imprint (they don’t publish those anymore, do they?). To my disappointment, I was not too impressed with most of them. I think I DNFed half that I started. The romances either were all about sex with little plot or mildly sexy stories with lots of suspense, better suited to Harlequin’s Intrigue or Romantic Suspense lines.

Blazes were the replacement for the Temptation imprint, which I preferred as they ranged from run-of-the-mill romances to paranormals with just about anything else in between, and enough steam to satisfy. In the new millennium, romance novels were less euphemistic than in the past with more erotic scenes. Harlequin’s Blaze line was supposed to cash in on that.

In my eyes, I thought the authors were trying too hard to be kinky. Most love scenes read the same: vanilla BDSM, being tied up, light spanking, use of toys… Sure the sex was there, but the love stories lacked heart.

The Plot

A while back, Melissa had a one-night stand in Cancun. She awoke in a hung-over daze with a ring on her finger. Had she just marry some random stranger? Before her hunk’s sleep can be disturbed, Melissa flees and leaves Mexico behind her.

In the ensuing years she becomes a wildly successful author. Her books? Well, they’re about sex, of course! She details all all the naughty ways to make love. Melissa uses her “marriage” for her credentials. In truth, Melissa has no love life at all, just what’s in her memories and imagination. But she’s a great faker and the media makes her a sensation.

To Melissa’s shock, after she’s interviewed on a talk show, who should return to her life, but Tony the very man she “married.” Tony wants answers as to why she left him behind. Moreover, why is she pretending they’re still together?

Melissa makes lame excuses and is perturbed by her intense attraction to him. Tony pursues her, accompanying her while she advertises her book. He becomes part of the promotional campaign. The pair pretend to be deeply in love. Pretense turns into reality as Melissa and Tony spend more and more time together.

Later on, Melissa and Tony appear on a 24-hour reality show and have rather boring sex under the covers while the cameras are on.

He also shaves her legs with a straightedge razor. Was that’s supposed to be erotic? When my legs are hairy, I do not want my man touching them, even if it’s to help groom.

Opinion

I remember being really disappointed by the lackluster love scenes in this one. The plot was rom-com cute, but poorly executed. (I could swear a Lifetime flick starring Laura Prepon from “That ’70s Show” ripped off this plot, or at least part of it [Note: It did! The movie was called “Romancing The Bride” and was only loosely based on Unfinished Business]).

So what were the highlights?

The story was mildly funny, as Suzanne Forster has a good sense of humor, so that was a positive.

Lamentably, the erotic scenes failed to titillate. For example, Melissa and Tony engaged in lots of finger-licking, which is fine for Cheeto-dusted fingers. When it comes to bedroom foreplay, that’s gross. Hey, I believe in different strokes and all that, but do people really get turned on by having their fingers sucked? Like, what if the woman has pointed, acrylic nails or the guy hasn’t watched his hands after going to the bathroom? That’s as sexy as licking the inside of somebody’s stinky, lint-filled belly button.

All in all, however, this was a mediocre read, as it lacked that sexy over-the-top oomph I was expecting.

The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne

The Highwayman, Kerrigan Byrne, St. Martin’s Press, 2015

2 1/2 Stars

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Book Review – The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne

The opening chapter of Kerrigan Byrne’s The Highwayman had me hooked. It has a lovely, heartbreaking beginning. Two lonely orphans in a child-care facility fall in love & “marry.” There’s a nice quote from the beginning where 8-year-old Farah teaches 11-year-old Dougan to read…and love. 

“Love is quite like reading, I expect. Once you know how, you can’t ever imagine not doing it.”

Young Farah tells Dougan before the pair are cruelly separated.

Fast forward 17 years, the heroine’s an independent, progressive yet virginal widow working for Scotland Yard & the hero’s an underworld king. Farah doesn’t recognize Dougan, but he does her, is furious she broke their vow to marry another man, so he kidnaps her and brings her to Scotland.

Then what started so beautifully took a turn into anachronistic historical. Eh, par for the course. Still, it was good. Or at least it was better than most modern historical romances I’ve read. So far.

But Farah was DUMB. She couldn’t guess who Dorian truly was? Same age, same coloring, & how did he get a scar on his eye just like Dougan did? Sharp as butter knife she is.

Dougan’s intriguing, yet while his attitude of “I don’t like touching because I was raped in prison” makes sense (and gave me shades of the film Buffalo ’66“No touching! I don’t like to be touched!”) but his “So just stand there and I’ll just ogle you while I bathe & masturbate” came off as pervy, not sexy. Damaged heroes=meh.

(PS: Walters=Hodar)

At 35% through listening to this book on Audible, however, I decided to return it. The narration was very good, but the story was getting way too repetitive. After a promising start, I found the heroine was both incomprehensibly modern & stupid at the same time. The hero…a douche, but nothing unforgiveable. Although his “Woe is me, you don’t know how much I’ve suffered” attitude was getting on my nerves.

So I returned the audiobook, and read the DTB version.

Alas, it was not to be. The angst was too overwrought, even for me, who adores an angst-ridden romance. And the mindsets were all wrong, far too modern. If I want contemporary attitudes in a romance, I’ll read a contemporary romance. This romance couldn’t decide what it wanted to be, which is fitting, as I couldn’t decide whether it was worth my time or not.

In the Warrior’s Bed by Mary Wine

In the Warrior’s Bed, Mary Wine, Kensington Brava, 2010, James Griffin cover art

3 Stars

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Something New-ish

After realizing that all the romance novels I read are at least 20 years old, I decided to give something newer a try. Mary Wine’s 2010 Scottish historical romance In the Warrior’s Bed is not a bad book, but it lacks that extra something that makes it memorable.

Actually it’s memorable for one thing: they didn’t get the cover right! If you’re anal-retentive like me, this will bother you. As much as I find them dehumanizing, a headless torso cover would have been preferable. The heroine is supposed to be blond yet the cover depicts a black-haired woman. And let’s not talk about the inaccurate plaid (grumble, grumble).

You can’t blame cover artist James Griffin because the heroine’s name is Bronwyn and most Bronwyns in Romancelandia have black hair, LOL. Plus the author doesn’t give a physical description of her heroine until page 69 of this trade issue book, and then it’s only to briefly describe her honey-colored hair. If one is writing a romance novel, there is no shame in giving a physical description of your character by page 10.

Book – In the Warrior’s Bed

Anyhoo, onto the actual book. We’ve seen this plot before: two Scottish clans are feuding, and the hero abducts the heroine, schtupps her silly and they fall in love, while the evil-doers do their bad thing and try to separate them/kill them.

In the Warrior’s Bed falters when the main characters Bronwyn and Cullen are not together, so fortunately, they’re together a lot. Cullen McJames is a sexy, masculine hero, but I couldn’t really understand Bronwyn. Her loyalty to her family is noble, although not reasonable. They treat her like a slave, humiliate her, and want her dead. Here’s this hunk with a brogue who wants to treat her like a lady, take her away from her violent clan, and give her lots of orgasms. But of course, she just has to fight him every step of the way.

As this is a modern Brava romance there will be no mention of manhoods, manroots, or members, however c***s will be constantly stirring in kilts. For the first half of the book, Cullen is in a constant state of priapism, even when the heroine is nowhere to be found. I thought the guy should have contacted his doctor because we’ve all heard what those commercials say about 4 hour erections.

Opinion of In the Warrior’s Bed

Although the romance here is a bit lacking, the love scenes are quite sensual. The good guys are good and the bad guys are eeevilll! Plus, there’s lots of blood and killing, which is fun in fiction. In the Warrior’s Bed ends nice and violently, so that’s a positive.

This is the second novel in a series of three books, so one day I may pick up the others out of curiosity because Ms. Wine’s writing style is to be admired. Still, it took me two weeks to finish this 277 page romance, as I kept putting it down and reading something else. I’d give it 3 stars, which is not bad, but not a keeper.

The Serpent Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt

The Serpent Prince, Elizabeth Hoyt,

“My darling Lucy.” He panted against her ear, and then his teeth scraped her earlobe. “I love you,” he whispered. “Don’t ever leave me.”

THE SERPENT PRINCE

5 Stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Book – The Serpent Prince

I’ve only read the first seven of Elizabeth Hoyt’s historical romances, but The Serpent Prince is far and away my favorite. And it’s all due to Viscount Simon Iddesleigh. This is third and final installment in her “Princes” trilogy, and what a way to end the series!

A Great Hero and Heroine

A dandy’s dandy, Simon dresses like a Georgian fop in full wig, red heeled-shoes and lots of lace. He falls madly for Lucy, a commoner with an over-protective father. Lucy saves Simon’s life after he’s found seemingly lifeless in the river and nurses him back to health.

Simon and Lucy are instantly attracted to one another, but they have social and emotional differences that are obstacles for them being together. Love wins out, though, and against Lucy’s father’s judgment, they get married. However, it’s not easy sailing for Lucy and Simon, as Simon has secrets that haunt him. He’s such a multi-faceted hero, and Lucy is a strong heroine with fortitude and dignity.

Simon’s foppish ways hide a tortured soul; he’s a deadly swordsman who seeks revenge against those who killed his brother. Only Lucy’s love and a decent friend are his only salvation.

When I thought of Simon looking like this:

 photo 1259916696_paul-bettany-20060103-95212.jpg
Jennifer Connelly is one lucky gal!

(SIGH!)

…It really hit all my right buttons!

Also a plus in this historical romance is that the relationship is consummated AFTER the wedding. In contemporaries I don’t care when it takes place, but in a historical I like that old-fashioned type of stuff.

A Favorite Romance

Many reader prefer the first two book in the series, The Raven Prince and The Leopard Prince to this one. As always, I’m a contrarian. They were good, however in my eyes they never reached the emotional highs of The Serpent Prince, which takes a spot on my all-time-favorite-romances list.

Transcendence by Shay Savage

Transcendence, Shay Savage, Shay Savage LLC, 2014

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

4.5 Stars

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

First Impressions

Seriously? I loved this book. I can’t believe it, though! This is Twilight fan-fiction about a time traveling teen finding love with a caveman who acts like a protective puppy dog. I cried like a baby reading it. Must have been my time of the month.

My Frankensteinian Review Patched Together From Reading Notes

Shay Savage’s Transcendence is no great work of literature. It’s one of those pulled-to-pub Fan-fiction stories loosely based on Twilight. I have never read any of the Twilight books, nor read a sample, nor seen the films. I’ve never had a desire to do so, yet despite that, I know more about the series than I care to. If the names weren’t Ehd = Edward and Beh = Bella, I never would have caught on. Other than the hair colors and the fact that the hero is *OMG* so possessive, I don’t see any similarity between the series. There are no feuding groups, no love triangles, no baseball games, no battles.

80% of the book is just Beh and Ehd alone, dealing with the harsh environment with almost zero spoken dialogue throughout. It’s a primal love story between a young, frightened girl and a young, frightened male both trying to survive in a brutal world.

Although I’m not proud, I truly adored this book. It was written on a sixth grade reading level with the terms baby, mate or put a baby in my mate showing up on every single page! Transcendence was incredibly repetitive, simplistic, with a minimal plot, but it had its charms. I suppose it appealed to my inner 12-year-old, a being a I did not know was still in existence. Or, more likely, it reminded me of the film that I consider to be the most romantic movie with a happy ending: “Quest for Fire.”

In a caveman romance it makes sense that the hero is all “You my woman. I am your man. We are mated. I protect you and throw you over my shoulder so we make lots of babies.” That usually doesn’t work for me in contemporary romance or whatever genre. But here it works; it makes sense.

I’m seeing that many readers labeled Ehd an alpha male, but he came off totally beta to me. Maybe my definition of alpha male isn’t jiving with the accepted definition of the word. He wasn’t an independent type, he was always wanting to be with Beh. Ehd’s constantly thinking: “I want to protect my mate. I can never let my mate out of my sight. I will growl at anyone who comes at my mate. My penis is hard.”

He reminded me of my dearly loved and long departed American Eskimo dog. He was poofy, insanely loyal, hated being alone, loved to cuddle, barked at all strangers, and had constant erections when he was happy.

 photo 100_0575.jpg
My old American Eskimo doggie, standing by, ready to defend his pack, from all sources of danger, be it squirrel, bird, or UPS delivery man.

Some readers have assumed that Ehd is a Neanderthal, with a sloping forehead, and mouth full of huge teeth. But in her introduction to her book, Shay Savage states he is part of the early “Homo-Sapien” species, it’s just that he lacks the ability to speak. Artistic license and all that.

So rather than looking like this:

 photo quest4a.jpg
Handsome fellow, eh?

Ehd looks more like this:

 photo robert_pattinson_beard.jpeg
He’s cleans up nice for a caveman.

Transcendence was a rare experience for me as it was told from the male 1st person POV, which worked to add a sense of confusion. A young girl is propelled back in time and we have to put the pieces together to figure out what’s going on.

As much as I loved this book, I hope there is no sequel or one of those alternate POV sequels. The story finishes rather definitively. There are some hanging questions, but for me the ending was an ending. It was both a sad and happy ending, and one of the best endings I’ve read in a long time.

What can I say? Sometimes a story appeals beyond all rationalization and reason. I loved this one.

Spoiler Alert: Do NOT Read This Unless You Really, Truly Want To

After many years, children and grandchildren together, Beh dies of old-age and illness while Ehd holds her in his arms, lets the fire in the cave burn out and dies heartbroken. Just like a loyal doggie would.

Rock Chick Regret by Kristen Ashley

Rock Chick Regret, Kristen Ashley, 2011

1 Star DNF

Rating: 1 out of 5.

I’ve not kept up with Romance genre trends, so I don’t know who the popular authors in the Current Year are. A few years back, everybody was gushing about Kristen Ashley. For all I know, they still are. Optimistically, I purchased about a half dozen of her e-books and gave her a shot. First, I read Lacybourne Manor although I didn’t really care for the writing style, nor the screwball, immature-in-mind-but-not-in-years heroine. But you all know what they say about falling off a horse. Plus, if I don’t like something the first time, I’ll give it a second just to make sure the dissatisfaction wasn’t a one-off thing. 

It wasn’t.

I Couldn’t Even Finish It!

In vain I attempted to complete Kristen Ashley’s Rock Chick Regret. I read as much as I could tolerate, then noped out of that book at 50%. Kristen Ashley is just not my cuppa. I don’t rate DNF books unless I get at least halfway through. Since I passed that mark, I can with a clear conscience give this book a big thumbs down.

I cannot relate to the people and world Ashley creates. Her characters are vapid, shallow, and immature at best, and cardboard cutouts and stereotypes at worst. 

To any Ashley fans, I mean no offense with my words. Everybody has different tastes and that has no bearing on the kind of person one is. There are people who genuinely like Anisette liqueur and black licorice and I will never understand why.

Then again, I despise mayonnaise, ketchup, and tomatoes. That’s pretty weird.

I have low standards when it comes to entertainment. All I ask is that it provides me with some form of enjoyment. It need not be highbrow, popular with audiences, or critically lauded. My 2nd favorite Star Wars film is unironically Attack of the Clones.

The Book – Rock Chick Regret

There’s no handling this with kid gloves; I hated Rock Chick Regret. I know it’s kind of stupid to jump into book 7 of a series, but I’d gotten the impression from reviews that this was the best of the bunch. If you’ve read the novel, you know the plot. Briefly, the daughter of a crime boss is raped and goes to the “Hot Bunch” (a security team) for protection, especially seeking out “the guy-who-could-have-been” Hector. Hector used to work for Sadie’s dad and now is fiercely protective of her after her tragedy. 

Yada, yada, yada, Sadie and Hector’s romance unfolds as “The Hot Bunch,” Hector, and Sadie plan to get the bad guys.

These people are in their thirties and forties and refer to themselves as the “Rock Chicks” and “Hot Bunch.” I know 30 is the new 21, and even I at the decrepit age of 43, still enjoy a bit of the bohemian life. However, these adults in their 30s carry on like teenagers, posing like “cool kids,” partying, and being overall vapid as can be. All they care about are clothes, and not just any clothes, but designer brands, described in painstaking detail that would have GRR Martin or Bertrice Small (RIP) say: “Hold on, there, don’t you think that’s a bit too much clothes porn?” 

Mean Girls and Stale Clichés 

The Rock Chicks are utter cows, the catty, cliquey types who make me happy that, other than my many sisters, my relationships with female friends are on a one-on-one basis. First, they’re bitchy to Sadie, then after they find out about her tragic rape, they turn around and are suddenly BFFs for life, shouting to all and sundry about Sadie’s violation.  

The characters are just reduced down to superficial basics: Hector, the Hispanic hottie who calls Sadie his Mamacita (look, I’m Latina and I know that Mami & Papi are used as terms of affection between lovers, but that’s always been a no-no in my family. My man is my man, not my Daddy); the gay cuddly BFFs that are used as “purse puppies” to show how open and cool Sadie is (hat-tip to Ya Boi Zack for that term); cut-out villains that are evil because good is dumb; Sadie, the icy cold blonde princess, who’s really not icy at all, no matter how many times we’re told that; the super, awesome girlfriends; and their uber-alpha, buff, ultra-possessive men.

There’s a scene where Sadie’s friend Buddy introduces her to his “lesbian friend, Bex.” Who does that?

“Hi, this is my bi-polar friend Sal, my vegan friend Polly, and my Indigenous Peoples friend Joaquin.” People aren’t people in this book, they’re distilled to traits.

My Opinion

This book was so bad, it made me question myself. Was I that much of a hoity-toity snob that I couldn’t appreciate a little bit of check-your-brains-at-the-door-fun-&-just-enjoy-the-ride romance? Me, hoity-toity about reading tastes? Me, the anti-censorship stalwart, the staunch defender of un-PC 70s-80s bodice rippers, a reader of really crappy Zebra, Pinnacle, and Playboy Press pulps?

Reading this book made me feel like Homer Simpson, the iconic cartoon schlub, in that episode where he moves to the boonies and the local yokels accuse him of putting on airs:

Farmer 1: Well, well. Look at the city slicker pulling up in his fancy German car.
Homer: This car was made in Guatemala.
Farmer 2: Well, pardon us, Mr. Gucci loafers.
Homer: I bought these shoes from a hobo.
Farmer 1: Well, la-de-da, Mr. Park Avenue manicure.
Homer: I’m sorry, I believe in good grooming.

THE SIMPSONS

There’s a lot of popular stuff out there I don’t like. Fortunately, those authors have legions of fans to buy their books and provide adulation, so a peon like me writing a bad review is no biggie. It’s a big world with plenty of stories, and hopefully, we can all agree that while not everything is for everybody, there are some things out there for everyone.