Through NetGalley and Goodreads I’ve ended up reading a lot of romances over the past few weeks, so it seemed like a good time for some mini reviews! Also, Pandora decided to just start playing “I Want to Know What Love Is”, so, um, thematically appropriate?
In The Raw by Eileen Griffin and Nikka Michaels. I enjoy pretty much everything I’ve read from Carina Press, especially their m/m titles. This one was full of everything I love–bad boy and goodie-two-shoes, food (why do I love contemporary romances about cooking so much?)–but it felt a little overstuffed to me. There are too many conflicts going on. You don’t need a coming-out/evil homophobe parents conflict and a bullying classmate and rich boy/poor boy drama and a competition over the same scholarship. Plus, how do you have a pierced and tattooed bad boy and then almost never use that? I definitely needed some more tattoo action going on. 2.5 stars.
Hunting the Spy by Tyler Flynn. Another Carina Press title, this one a m/m historical. Nathan Kennet is a spycatcher for the Crown who has to face the possibility that his former lover, Sir Peter Ross, might be a killer and a traitor. This one was really fast paced and fun. Nathan had an almost terminal case of the stupids some times, and at some of the plottier parts my eyes glazed over, but Peter was completely adorable and for the most part I liked how the relationship developed. 3.5 stars.
The Leopard Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt. I have no idea why Goodreads was giving away a seven year old title, but I was really excited about it. I like Elizabeth Hoyt and the tagline– “The one thing a lady must never do is fall in love with her servant”–really drew me in. With historicals, you tend to get an overabundance of dukes, earls, and marquesses, and when someone is of a different class, it’s usually the woman–a prostitute, a poor relation, etc. So I was really, really excited to see a romance between a lady and her land steward.
Only, it didn’t really turn out to be that. Harry is as much of an arrogant, entitled asshat as any good regency Duke. He doesn’t actually do any land stewarding because he’s either haring around the countryside in pursuit of a murderer, or stomping around with widdle hurt feewings because his lady said something that he took out of context. Georgina, the lady, starts out pretty cool, but by the end she is making just as many stupid decisions as he is (Need to fix all your problems? Run away from them and marry a gay man, natch.) And the class conflict I wanted was virtually nonexistent. George’s family pretty quickly come around, and while Harry pouts a bit about George having the money and people perceiving him as a “man-whore,” it all feels like hollow whining instead of valid concerns. Most of the conflict comes externally, from the most mustache-twirlingly, vile, gross villain I have read in a good long while.
This book sounded so cool but when I sat down to read it every single thing about it rubbed me the wrong way. 2 stars.
The Hidden Blade by Sherry Thomas. Lastly, we come to a romance that isn’t really a romance at all. A prequel to Thomas’s My Beautiful Enemy, (which I have not yet read), The Hidden Blade sets up the backstories of the protagonists, but they never meet. In Peking, Ying-ying, the daughter of a beautiful courtesan, finds out that her father is a “foreign devil,”(an Englishman) and, not sure what sort of future this gives her, begins to secretly train in martial arts. In England, Leighton faces virtual imprisonment by his awful uncle after his father’s suicide, and he works hard to both protect his family and escape and return to them. So much terrible stuff happens in this book, and it happens to children. It was actually kind of rough to read, at points. But Leighton and Ying-ying were both fascinating characters, and I kind of can’t wait to see how they react to/interact with each other. Being a prequel, it ends unsatifyingly and feels unfinished, but there’s a lot to like about this book. Non-white characters and non-Western cultures that don’t feel like caricatures or pandering. A homosexual relationship that admittedly ends in tragedy but isn’t based on stereotype. A badass ninja battle. All in all, it was a pretty cool read, and I don’t think you have to be a romance reader to enjoy it. 4 stars.
One interesting note is that all of these books have homosexual characters. Okay, two of them are explicitly m/m titles, but seeing gay characters in otherwise “regular” historical romances made me quite happy. Romance, like most genres, needs a lot more diversity in terms of color, creed, orientation, etc. History wasn’t all white, straight people, and I love to see authors acknowledging and exploring that.
I think I’ve gotten romance out of my system for a while. Time to get back to fantasies.