Thursday, February 23, 2017

Mini-Reviews: Dukes and Black Ops
If you're predisposed to hate on all "light historical romance" you'll just want to waltz right past Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare.  Everything about this book will likely have you pulling your hair out and screaming into the abyss.  But if, like me, you believe there is such a thing as "good light historicals" and "soul-sucking kill me already light historicals" - well, this is one of the good ones.

Isolde Goodnight's father made a name for himself writing insipid romantic tales where "little Izzy" played a central role. Think of her like Christopher Robin.  Daddy has died unexpectedly leaving Izzy with nothing other than the goodwill of his many fans (who treat her like a little girl and not a grown spinster of 26) and she's down to her last pennies when she finds out her godfather has bequeathed her Gostley Castle.  One small problem - the castle has a resident, Ransome, the Duke of Rothbury.  Ransome was grievously injured in a duel gone wrong and has been hiding out (all Beast-like) in HIS castle.  So needless to say when Izzy shows up proclaiming the castle is rightly hers he's a might put out.

This is light, charming and achingly romantic in parts - but it helps to go into it with your Fairy Tale Glasses firmly in place.  This is one of those light historicals that take place in Regencyville, Romancelandia with no discernible sense of place (Regency? Early Victorian? I got whiffs of both).  There are some silly inclusions, like Izzy's pet ermine and her father's cosplaying fans.  There are even what I felt were references to The Princess Bride (the movie) and Star Wars (I'm not sure if these were intentional on the part of the author, but it's how I read them.  I could be wrong.)

Some of you are already probably reaching for the vodka, and if you are?  Just save yourself the time and inevitable annoyance by staying far, far away.

That said, there is some depth here - but it tends to reside within the characters' emotions, and their reactions to various situations.  These were the moments that stuck with me and had me happy sighing my way through the book.  Yes, it's silly - but it's a fairy tale wrapped up with a big ol' giant escapist bow.  A pink one.  With maybe some glitter on it.  If that sounds like the sort of thing that appeals you'll love this and beg for seconds.

Final Grade = B
Let me share with you some of the reasons I've enjoyed HelenKay Dimon's books in the past.  1) She writes good action/adventure plots 2) She writes really good, bantering dialogue and 3) She has a knack for writing secondary characters you desperately want follow-up books about.  So it pains me to say that Playing Dirty didn't work for me at all.  In fact I DNF'ed it at the 25% mark because I was bored and didn't care.

Ford works Black Ops for Alliance, a secretive undercover unit for MI6 and the CIA.  There's anywhere from 3 to 25 hot hunky guys running around in the first 7 chapters, all of them interchangeably hunky and hot, swearing when a operation goes south (which it does - twice in the first 7 chapters) and really, I don't care.  Some wunderkind scientist has invented some evil chemical thingie that some bad guy has stolen and Ford is leasing an apartment in the heroine's building, getting close to her, because she's wunderkind scientist's cousin.  He's naturally boning her every chance he gets and explains his constant travel and workaholic tendencies on a fictional IT job.

Shay is the heroine and basically her job in the first 7 chapters is to talk in innuendo with Ford, stay off page when he's out playing Black Ops stud with all those interchangeable hunky future heroes, and have sex with him when he is around.  Seriously.  Seven chapters, three sex scenes.  Oh wait, she does have a conversation with her uncle!  So she can do something else besides stand around and wait for the hero to bone her.

Here's the problem: I am a very heroine-centric romance reader.  If you're all about hot studly manly heroes because OMG THEY ARE SO HOT AND HUNKY!!!!! -  maybe you'll love this.  There is nothing in the first 25% to give me an inkling of why I should care about Shay and all Ford seems to do is feel guilty that he's deceiving her and get cranky about work.  Blah, blah, blah - whatever.

Here's the thing: I've enjoyed similar set-ups like this in the past.  Dimon's Harlequin Intrigues feature Black Ops-style military-like units with a bevy of hunky guys standing around and I really enjoyed those.  I think I know why - short word count = tighter pacing and plotting.  Here?  None of this was holding my attention and I was getting more unreasonably annoyed by the minute.  Having liked this author's work in the past (quite a bit!), I'm chalking this up to This Series Is Not My Jam.

Final Grade = DNF


Liz Mc2 said...

I read a ton of Dimon's Intrigues (thanks to you!) and I find the heroines there are pretty smart and brave and get involved in the action right away, even if the heroes try to keep them out. That's why I don't mind her macho macho man heroes--the heroine holds her own. Maybe, as you say, it's just because of the shorter length that the heroine is central from the start. But what you describe here wouldn't work for me either.

Jill said...

I loved, loved, loved "Romancing The Duke." Read it in one night and it cemented me as a Tessa Dare fan girl. I loved the heroine's ambivalent feelings towards her fame as "little Izzy Goodnight" and how the hero sees her as an adult unlike everyone around her. It reminded me a bit of the rumor that Shirley Temple's husband had never seen one of her movies.

I think the Star Wars references are definitely intentional. 😉 Also possible spoiler? . . .

I think there were some references to "Faking It" by Jenny Cruisie, including the heroine's last name.

Kate said...

Can we please stop naming intrigue heroines "Shay?"

Wendy said...

Liz: OMG, that's it! The shorter word count means the heroine is a strong focus from the on-set (you don't have time for dilly-dallying). I'd chalk it up to an author working for me in category and not full-length (that's happened before!), but I've liked the few Brava titles I've read by Dimon so...yeah. It's just this series.

Jill: I loved the Beauty and the Beast vibe and liked the few sly references Dare made to Old School Gothics. I did kind of hammer on the historical sense of place, but failed to mention that I thought the castle setting was drawn well. While the feel for the time period felt squishy to me, I was immersed in that castle from the get-go.

Kate: I figure that will happen about the same time they stop using "Wilde" as a Romancelandia surname ;)

Spinsterfun said...

Interesting review of the Dimon book. I've been reading romance novels since time was and somehow it's only in the past week or two that I figured out there were readers who love the hero books and readers who love the heroine's journey. I fall into the latter camp and am finally starting to figure out how to avoid the kind of books I don't like: heroine has no real job, female friends, or ambition; cover typically features heavily muscled arms and/or guns.

Wendy said...

Spinsterfun: I can think of a few (very few!) exceptions to that rule - but I think you're on to something. Just looking at the two books I talked about in this post - the Tessa Dare is definitely strong in the "heroine's journey" and voila! Heroine front and center on the cover. The Dimon book was All About The Hunky Dudes and....muscled arms and guns.

Jen LB said...

I HATED Playing Dirty because Ford's lie doesn't get resolved until the *very* end. Shay ends up completely humiliated and I ended up hating Ford. I liked the others in the series, but between Shay's insipidness and Ford's lies this one didn't work for me.

Wendy said...

Jen LB: And that ultimately was what pushed me over the edge to DNF. I mean, I was one breath away anyway, so I went out looking for reviews. Mrs. Giggles mentioned in hers that the deception lingers on until the bitter end and I was like NOPE! Done.