Tag Archives: Eloisa James

July 2010 Reads

1 Aug

Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher

Furies of Calderon is the first in the fantasy series Codex Alera and I really liked it. It tells the familiar story of an aging king without an heir and a looming war of succession, placed in a world where people bond with elemental furies. The story is told by several characters and it looks like Butcher has some interesting things in store for what’s to come. And while the characters mights be a bit too one/two-dimensional, some at least are capable of being gray (such as a woman on the “bad” side helps a woman on the “good” side). At the moment, I’m most interested in Isana, the aunt of the main protagonist Tavi. It seems she had an interesting and tragic past so I’m looking forward to finding out more.
If there’s one thing I found a bit off-putting, then it’s that Furies of Calderon is a very action-driven novel and the characters always seem to end up in a place even worse than they are at the start of a chapter, following the “what can go wrong, will go wrong” line of thought. It made for a relentless pace for much of the story and that felt a bit exhausting at times.

For the Win by Cory Doctorow

YA, set in the world of multiplayer online games. For the Win looks at the economic system of these games and focuses on the lives of “gold farmers,” who work under appalling conditions to get virtual items which their employers then sell for real money. I found this premise interesting, especially because I played such a game for nearly a year until last month.
The story and the characters’ behavior in For the Win are guided by an idea/vision and “lectures” on economy interrupt the novel several times. There’s nearly no character development and because of the many POV characters, I didn’t get a very strong sense of continuity until very late in the book when all the different story lines start converging. So, interesting read in terms of idea/vision/lectures on economy but at times it felt more like a documentary than a novel. Also, I’m not exactly sure why it’s labeled YA. The premise is a big draw probably but the lectures don’t seem to fit.

This Duchess of Mine by Eloisa James

I really enjoyed reading this novel. It was witty and fun and where else do you find a heroine that goads another woman into seducing the heroine’s husband? Really, I like James’s novels mostly for the interesting, non-cardboard characters and I don’t care if I would find them nice or likable in real life. So, I had fun reading this novel. But I’m not sure there is much story underneath all that sparkle.
Jemma and Elijah are married and after years of living apart, it’s time to produce an heir. Good thing they also realized in the previous books of the series that they also want to jump each others bones. So where’s the story eh problem?
Jemma realizes that she doesn’t know what Elijah likes and she thinks she’s only second (third?) best to Elijah’s governmental work and his rivalry with Villiers. Elijah thinks of Jemma as “MINE!” and his honor is very important to him. Hmm…I’m still not sure how all this translated into the coy flirtation and dancing around each other that takes up more than half of the story, especially because they agreed about the need for an heir and time is running short with Elijah illness, but it was fun to read nevertheless. The later part of the novel concerns itself with Elijah’s illness and oh, there are also some interesting developments for Villiers in the story. And that’s what happens.
So, fun to read; looking forward to reading Villiers story next.

Her Sister’s Baby by Janice Kay Johnson

This was a surprise book for two reasons. First, I didn’t know I had this book. It was a bonus book in my edition of Spencer’s Sweet Memories. Second, the story features a baby and I enjoyed reading the novel quite a lot.
The story: “Colleen will do anything for her sister Sheila, including having her baby. Sheila’s husband, Michael, wants a baby, too. When Colleen offers to be a surrogate for his wife, he’s deeply grateful. Then an accident takes Sheila’s life, and Colleen and Michael turn to each other in their sorrow only to discover an unacknowledged attraction.” (quote: Goodreads)

Smooth Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas

Smooth Talking Stranger started off great but halfway through it lost the main obstacle for a relationship between Ella and Jack: Ella’s boyfriend left the field.
I say main obstacle because Ella’s insistence that she will never marry and her relationship problems didn’t seem to play too much of a role in the second half of the novel IMO. They came up from time to time then, I even believed them, but I not once had the impression that they would stand in the way of the couple’s HEA. So in my view, Ella’s boyfriend was the main obstacle and I was left with no real tension in the second part of the novel. In addition, Ella’s light bulb re how much Jack means to her comes in the way this so often does in Kleypas’s novels…
I also asked myself: 1) where did Ella get all her fabulous clothes? I thought she left with only a few to look what was the matter with her sister. 2) For two reasons I’m left with the slightly weird impression that Jack is second-best to Luke, Ella’s nephew. 3) It seems to me that Ella is a vegan only because her boyfriend is one, one who has strong views about it. From this I gather: Ella tries to please other people. A lot. And I’m left wondering: what does this say about her relationship with Jack? Jack, he who is of the tribe “MINE!”
Okay, it seems I didn’t like this novel, but that’s actually not true. I thought the way it delineated and constructed gender (roles) very interesting. Just look at that vegan business, for example. And there are things I liked: Kleypas’s contemporary voice, the beginning, Jack’s willingness to do everything for HIS woman (very nice fantasy!) Or how the novel looked at how damaging parents can be to their children. There’s good stuff but I missed something in the second half.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I read the German edition of this novel. Different from other editions I know, it doesn’t reference a character in the title. The German edition is called “Verblendung” (~ delusion). Somehow I thought I would get something along the line of La Femme Nikita (the original, not the US remake) with this novel. Not so. There is a female character, Lisbeth Salander, and she’s not your usual female character, but she’s not the main character (maybe that changes in the other books?). That honor belongs to Mikael Blomkvist, the author stand-in who is in love with brand names and himself and so naturally have all the women fall at his feet; that is jump into bed with him right away.
There are two stories in this novel. The mystery of the missing Harriet (what attracted me to the novel) is solved way before the end and it wasn’t all that difficult to get an idea why Harriet disappeared (helpful little statistics fronting each part of the story) or what happened. The last hundred or so pages are spend on solving Mikael’s problem, the one that made him lose his position at his newspaper and so enabled him take up Harriet’s case in the first place. (You go, Mikael!)
I actually enjoyed the novel in the beginning. It was a bit slow, yes, but I was willing. Then the brand names started to bother me. I swear each time a laptop was mentioned, its brand name was mentioned, too. Same with other things. I was reading that novel on my vacation at the pool (spotted three readers with the same book!) and because the brand names annoyed me, I told my boyfriend each time I encountered one. It was like a game. (Later he knew just by my huff and lowering of the book that I’d found another one.)
Anyway, besides in brand names, the story is bogged down in exposition, unnecessary details and bland characters IMO. Admittedly, Lisbeth is a cool character but she goes the way of the big boobs later in the story, thinking how she likes to have that option or something like that (Who thinks that? Is it really the cool and not-giving-a-damn Lisbeth?) And of course, Lisbeth also realizes she’s in love with Mikael (yeah Mikael!). So no, while Lisbeth is easily the most interesting thing about this novel, she didn’t save it for me.
There is a decent mystery buried underneath that all but it was hard to find. And I think I missed the social criticism completely. The abuse of women was presented too sensational and over-the-top. I couldn’t view that as criticism.

The Shy Bride by Lucy Monroe

I don’t remember much about this one. The heroine is a pianist and a recluse, the hero’s a self-made millionaire. Oh wait, that’s probably billionaire. Anyway, I thought the heroine’s anxiety attacks were done quite well and I liked Monroe’s voice. So I’m actually tempted to read the book that features the hero’s best friend.

Slave to Sensation, Visions of Heat, Caressed by Ice by Nalini Singh (re-reads)

I read a review for another novel in this series and I was interested in reading it. But because I’d tried the first three novels in the Psy/Changeling series and we didn’t click, I didn’t. This set me to thinking about why I didn’t enjoy this series as much as most other readers and so I read the three novels I already had again.
I came away with a clearer grasp of why they don’t fit me completely. It’s the characters. They seem too much an illustration of their race traits to be complete individuals to me, with the conflict centered around the Psy/Changeling differences and what kind of Psy is part of the pairing. It makes characters and conflict look like part of the world building which makes the world building and the way it’s done more interesting but it also makes the characters (and story) less so for me. Yeah, I think that’s it.
So, maybe I’ll buy the next one in the series one day to see how the world building goes. After all, I liked Visions of Heat better than the first time so there is hope.

Sweet Memories by LaVyrle Spencer

I found Sweet Memories to be a nice and sweet story about a woman who’s wary of men because if they show interest, they show interest in her big rack. The novel’s a bit dated (not that I minded) and at times it felt slightly too sweet for my taste. Also, the story seemed a bit thin, concerning itself for the most part with Theresa’s anxiety and worry about her big breasts. But at the end Theresa’s made some changes to her life and seemed more grown up, so altogether I was fine and enjoyed reading it.

TBR Challenge – “The Taming of the Duke” By Eloisa James

18 Mar


Info: TBR Challenge 2009
Theme for the month: historical novel
In my TBR pile since:: December 2007

Genre: Romance / Historical
Published: Avon, 2006

Series: “Essex Sisters” series, # 3

Availability: still available

Monthly theme?: yes

Why I bought this novel: I liked the two previous novels in this series.

The back blurb:
“Imogen, Lady Maitland, has decided to dance on the wild side. After all, she’s in the delicious position of being able to take a lover. A discreet male who knows just when to leave in the morning.
But Lady Maitland is still under the watchful eye of her former guardian, the wildly untamed Rafe, the Duke of Holbrook. He believes she is still in need of a ‘watchdog.’ She laughs at the idea that someone so insufferably lazy and devoted to drink can demand that she behave with propriety.
It’s Rafe’s long-lost brother, a man who looks precisely like the duke but with none of his degenerate edge, who interests Imogen. To Imogen, he’s the shadow duke…the man who really should hold the title. But when Imogen agrees to accompany Gabe to a masquerade…whose masked eyes watch her with that intense look of desire? Who exactly is she dancing with? The duke or the shadow duke? Rafe…or Gabe?

The Taming of the Duke didn’t seem like a good choice to read for this challenge. It’s the third book in a series about four sisters, and I read the second one nearly two years ago. My memory of what had happened was more than hazy. What I remembered was that the four Essex sisters were wards of Rafe, the Duke of Holbrook, and that Imogen was a headstrong woman, recently widowed. Oh, and that two of her sisters were already married (which is what was to be expected, The Taming of the Duke being the third book in the series).

But astonishingly, I didn’t feel all that lost, even though James has a propensity to have quite a few POV characters, to follow multiple story lines, and to write more ensemble-like stories rather than straightforward romances with a strong focus on the hero and the heroine.

In this novel, we get two romances and some hints of what is to come for the fourth sister, Josie. The story takes place at Rafe’s house where a play is put on to help the career of an actress Rafe’s recently turned up (illegitimate) half-brother feels kind of responsible for. So allusions to Shakespeare (and other dramatists) are strong, maybe even more than in the other novels I’ve read by James so far. False first impressions, mistaken identities, and going after the wrong partner abound, and all revolves around the question “who with whom?”


Having lost her husband of two weeks a year ago, Imogen now seems better able to deal with her grieve and loss. When last year, she’d thought to have an affair out of “rage, humiliation, and guilt” after the death of her husband, she now wants something for herself. She sets her sights on Gabe, the illegitimate half-brother of Rafe, because he is perfectly acceptable to have an affair with and totally unacceptable to marry due to his illegitimacy.

Generous, greathearted drunkard Rafe doesn’t want to see his half-brother Gabe in Imogen’s clutches. He saw how she went after her husband, who at that time was the fiancé of Gillian Pythian-Adams, and he doesn’t want Gabe falling prey to that because Gabe recently had an unpleasant experience with the mother of his child Mary. (Mary’s mother refused to marry Gabe when it was clear a child was on the way because her career as an actress was more important to her.) Rafe also considers himself still somewhat of a guardian to Imogen.

Gabe is a professor at Cambridge and knows his place in the world, what he can achieve and what he can’t achieve because he was born illegitimate. So he knows, for example, that Imogen is interested in having an affair with him and he knows the reason why she’s interested: he is safe. Because of his knowledge about the barriers he can’t overcome, he

accustomed himself to making instantaneous decisions. If there was something–or someone–he desired, he decided whether it was possible. If it was not possible, he didn’t spare it another thought. If it was possible, he fought for it tooth and nail, as long as he judged it an intelligent goal. (126/127)

Then he claps eyes on Gillian Pythian-Adams.

Gillian doesn’t have the best opinion of men. All men are fools and she doesn’t believe love is for her. In fact, she was quite happy that her fiancé eloped with Imogen. But she is resigned that she should better marry and now thinks Rafe is a likely candidate for a husband.

with whom?

So Imogen wants to have an affair with Gabe, Gabe knows this and although he finds her attractive, Imogen doesn’t compare to Gillian in his eyes who is as unattainable as a wife for him as is Imogen. But because he doesn’t want to disappoint Imogen, who feels jilted by men he thinks, he persuades Rafe to take his place and go with Imogen to a concert he promised to attend with Imogen in disguise. Rafe realizes there he wants Imogen for himself while she thinks she’s with Gabe.

Gillian thinks Gabe the epitome of a rake. He’s recently widowed with a child, seems to think about having an affair with Imogen, and on top of that, the production of the play at Rafe’s house seems to be for the sake of Gabe’s paramour (who gets to play the leading role). His kiss is a total surprise to her while Gabe forgets his philosophy of never going after something that’s impossible for him to obtain.

So there’s confusion despite Imogen’s and Gillian’s conversation about Rafe and Gabe where they make their intentions clear: Imogen wants Gabe for an affair, Gillian wants Rafe for marriage. At least, that’s what they think.

Good and less good

I like James’s writing style and she often comes up with interesting and “edgy” characters, so I didn’t mind the scenes and chapters told from a POV character that had nearly nothing to do with the actual story much. And overall, I enjoyed reading this novel a lot.

That is, nearly up until the end. Then the pacing faltered a bit, IMO, because there was a lot to deal with – Imogen’s and Rafe’s romance, Rafe masquerading as his brother, Gillian’s and Gabe’s romance, the play – compared to the more leisurely pace before.

For example, there are hints that Imogen knows she’s actually with Rafe and not with Gabe but they are subtle and the revelation that Rafe pretended to be Gabe is rather short. The mirroring and contrasting of the roles the characters play on stage compared to what they are like off stage was dense and fast and so probably missed some of the effect it could have had (or I just couldn’t keep up).

But I think the reason I was enjoying myself a bit less during the last chapters was that the prickly awareness and conversations and arguments Imogen and Rafe shared then gave way to Imogen being with Rafe disguised as Gabe, and I really enjoyed reading Imogen’s and Rafe’s interactions, who I think rather interesting characters. I especially liked Rafe with his laid-back manner who also learns about taking responsibility. My favorite scene with these two is probably the one in the meadow.

Imogen and Rafe are right for each other and that is something that’s clear throughout the novel in the way Imogen cares about Rafe’s drinking (especially compared to how Gillian thinks she would handle it), for example, or how they actually have quite a few things in common and how they understand each other. Gillian and Rafe might have had a good marriage, but chances are good that Imogen and Rafe will have a happy marriage.

Verdict: Why did I away with the – and the +? This is perfect example for a novel where I can’t make up my mind between calling it a good (4/5) or a decent (3,5/5) book.

Eloisa James – “Duchess by Night”

10 Sep

GENRE: Romance / Historical
PUBLISHED: Avon Books, 2008

WHY THIS NOVEL: Part of series

The back blurb:
“Harriet, Duchess of Berrow, is tired of her title and the responsibilities that come along with it. Enough with the proper tea parties and elegant balls; what Harriet really wants is to attend an outrageous soiree where she can unleash her wildest whims and desires. But to attend such an event – especially if the event in question is Lord Justinian Strange’s rollicking fete, filled with noble rogues and rotters, risqué ladies and illicit lovers – would be certain scandal. That’s why she must disguise herself …

Looking forward to a night of uninhibited pleasure, Lord Strange is shocked to discover that beneath the clothes of a no-good rake is the most beautiful woman in the room. Why is a woman like her risking her reputation at his notorious affair? And can he possibly entice her to stay … forever?”

I was a bit wary when I opened this book because of the woman-disguised-as-man plot line. I’m not very fond. Too often, the woman is described as too womanly to make it believable and this non-belief carries over to the whole story, making it too “silly” for me. In Eloisa James’s Duchess by Night, the first thing is certainly true. Harriet often comes across as womanly and she’s described as having a rather womanly figure. As she herself says:

The only problem was … her rear. Harriet turned around and peered back there again.
She could hardly believe that she was even contemplating walking through the door like this. Her breeches fit her body like a glove. That was one thing from the front, but when she craned her neck to see her behind, she felt palpitations coming on. Her bottom … her bottom was exposed. Very exposed.
It was round. She had a very round bottom, as it turned out. Who knew that? With all the petticoats, and panniers, she’d never given her bottom a second glance. But there it was.
She tried to think about men’s bottoms but couldn’t remember that she’d ever seen any that where quite as – as curvy as hers appeared to be.
Would everyone know the moment she walked into the dining room? If they discovered her secret, she’d have to go back to wearing a huge wig and panniers. The very idea struck ice to her backbone. She couldn’t do that yet. Not when she felt beautiful and powerful and free – for the first time in her life. (p. 71)

While I never thought that Harriet could believably pull off the disguise for several weeks like she does in this story, this non-belief didn’t carry over to the rest of the story. In fact, what I probably enjoyed most about this novel was the first half with Harriet in full disguise mode. This plot line worked for me because James didn’t just use Harriet’s disguise to write a few (and cheap) scenes where the hero wonders why he is attracted to a man, although that’s there, like when Strange wonders why he should know the eye color of a man; she also used Harriet’s disguise as a way for Harriet to get a clearer image of herself (as a woman). So although it begun for a rather silly reason IMO and wasn’t very convincing, the disguise turned into something more and I enjoyed Duchess by Night more than I expected given the premise.

Unlike the previous two novels in the Duchess series, Duchess by Night is strongly focused on the romance. The overarching (and sometimes scene stealing) plot line of this series about chess, Jemma and her husband is nearly non-existent and the setup for the next novel, featuring Isidora and her husband, is very subtle. Unlike the other novels by James I read so far, there are fewer POV characters in Duchess by Night which also gives the story a more cohesive structure. It also helps that apart from Harriet, Isidora and Villiers, non of the established characters play much of a role since the story mostly takes place at Jem Strange’s house.

Harriet starts the story as a rather dowdy woman who’s unsure of herself – I mean, she turns up as Mother Goose at one of Jemma’s parties. In the course of the story, she learns a lot and I enjoyed reading about her discovery of herself. Jem Strange is an interesting character. He seems very unconventional, there’s the ongoing party and revelry at his house with questionable people, but he also has a rather conservative streak. For example, he’s more interested in The Game, than making use of all the opportunities offered at his home. Both Harriet and Jem learn from each other: Harriet learns to see herself as an attractive woman, and Jem learns to be a better parent.

I had some problems with the second half of the novel, after Jem knows of Harriet’s disguise. The focus shifted and the story slowed down a bit, IMO. Jem and Harriet begin an affair while keeping Harriet’s disguise as a man during the day. Jem’s daughter falls seriously ill and it’s that what makes him realize that no matter what precautions he takes, the way he lives affects his daughter. It’s also the time where Jem, Harriet and his daughter come really close. The story picks up again when it’s time for the big conflict: Jem discovers that Harriet has a title and – oh horror – she’s a duchess. Both thought the other would fit in his or her life and they would stay together. But after that revelation, this dream is over and Harriet leaves.

I don’t know, this part just didn’t fit comfortable with the first half, and the motivations and behavior of the characters were also a bit problematic, IMO. I wondered especially about Jem’s reasoning at the end, and some reflection on Harriet’s side would have been welcome there too. The big conflict seemed artificial because I didn’t really understand why Jem had such a big problem with titles. And I have to mention Jem’s daughter: the way she’s used in this story, she’s more a plot device than a real character. I thought her much to precocious to be really believable, even taking into consideration her rather unconventional upbringing. And the things she spouts reminded me of the chorus in an ancient play in that she knows or sees things her father doesn’t.

So, where does that leave me? Well, despite all the problems I could see, most of the time I still had fun reading this novel. And since I really liked how James used Harriet’s disguise, I’m torn between 3,5 or 4 – for this one (and it doesn’t help that I finished this novel exactly one month ago).

Would I recommend this novel? Probably yes.

Would I read this novel again? Probably yes.

Grade 4 – / 5 (because that’s what I thought first)

Eloisa James – "An Affair Before Christmas"

4 Feb

GENRE: Romance / Historical
PUBLISHED: Avon Books, 2007

The back blurb:
“One spectacular Christmas, Lady Perdita Selby, known to her friends and family as Poppy, met the man she thought she would love forever. Breathtakingly beautiful young Englishwoman, and theirs was the most romantic wedding she had ever seen. Four years later, Poppy and the duke have become the toast of the ton
Unwilling to lose the woman he still lusts after, the duke is determined to win back his beguiling bride’s delectable affections … and surpass the heady days of first love with a truly sinful seduction.”

This is novel number 3 I read by Eloisa James. This time, I wasn’t “bothered” (read: pulled out of the story) when James changed POV for a few sentences to a minor character (a servant, for example) or started a new chapter because of a change of scene and/or characters (resulting in some very short chapters). Either I’m used to it by now, or it was done more “smoothly.” Whichever it is, I enjoyed reading An Affair before Christmas.

Like the other novels I read by James, An Affair before Christmas is more an “ensemble” romance than a “straight” romance. Apart from the story of the main couple, there’s the ongoing story about Jemma, her husband Elijah and Villiers (although it’s not as prominent here as in the first novel) and smaller story elements that could or could not turn into a fully realized story line of its own. So there is a lot to keep up with.

Despite so much going on, I found the story of Poppy and Fletcher convincing and touching. The way James wrote about Poppy’s fight for freedom from her domineering mother was believable and made me cheer when Poppy finally got free. It was touching to read about Fletcher’s love of and devotion to his wife, especially after he realized that she didn’t enjoy their time in bed. His willingness to remain celibate and care for her still was a nice change from all the heroes who are so overcome with lust they can’t think straight (not that Fletcher was lacked there, but he was willing to try for his wife). The way he dealt with poppy’s mother at the end … just laugh out loud. And yes, thanks, Poppy’s change in character (or her maturing) didn’t happen overnight which made her development more believable. In fact, she and Fletcher even spent some months apart. I much rather have that – believability – than characters constantly snipping at each other just so that they don’t break what seems to be one of the first romance rules (“Don’t separate the heroine and the hero!”).

In short, what I like about An Affair before Christmas (and James’s other novels):
– “real” characters, meaning characters with flaws and who aren’t always easy to like but what makes reading about them really interesting and fun
– that I don’t know who a character will end up with (if with someone at all) the moment he/she appears for the first time
– intelligent dialogue
– often humorous writing

Hmm, I think there’s one other novel by James in my TBR pile. I’ll go and have a look.

Would I recommend this novel? Yes.

Would I read this novel again? Yes.

Grade: 4+ / 5