Sunday, May 19, 2013

Drama Llamas

I don't normally pay much attention to the various Badly Behaving Author kerfluffles that seem to crop up on Goodreads and elsewhere on a weekly basis. First, the comment threads are a time suck with no real result except an opinion that it's a huge circle jerk of self-righteous twits. And secondly, I honestly don't give a shit what some random author says on the internet.

The latest in the BBA wanks is the debacle over one Kendall Grey, who apparently wrote a blog aimed at other indie authors about her experiences in the profession. When her painstakingly written UF series tanked, she threw up her hands, saw the rabid consumption of hastily-written erotica by the romance readership and decided to cash in by writing trash. She sold out. Big fucking deal.

Her sin, however, is that she owned up to it. And it seems like quite a few readers have some hurt feelz about it and Grey's been getting blacklisted, dumped on, and harassed. We all know the drill. It's predictable, every single time an author dares to open his or her mouth without getting prior approval by readers. And it always, always, escalates. No one looks good when the dust finally settles.

The book that got Grey in trouble is what I'd call trashy smut, too. It's the kind of shoddy supply cranked out to meet low-standard demand that drives me up the wall. On Dublin Street by Samantha Young, Real by Katy Evans, Fifty Shades of Grey, and Kristen Ashley's output - they're all word vomit that wouldn't know an editor if it ran over them. But as long as I have the freedom to call it crap, I'm fine with it infesting the book market. Capitalism at its finest.

I'm pro-reader. I think we should have the freedom to say what we like about a book to our fellow readers without fear of reprisal. Book review threads and blog posts are our place to do that. When an author intrudes into that space and whines about their hurt feelings, then it's fair to engage.

But if an author is merely sounding off on their blog or in a forum or blog that is writer-centric? That's their space. They can say what they like about their own books, their audience, whatever. Publishing something doesn't mean giving up the right to hold opinions or express them.

If authors shouldn't go looking for trouble and to get their feelings hurt, then the same holds true for readers. I'm tired of these crusaders who have turned being outraged into a full-time job. The phrase "speshul snowflake" is thrown around a lot to describe these authors, when the ones who are demanding the rights but shunning the responsibilities seem to be a segment of the reading population.

I've gotten so tired of them that whenever an author is on their shitlist, I check them out. Grey's first book in her UF series is a freebie on Amazon, so I snapped it up. When Hugh Howey got absurdly crucified for his blog post about an obnoxious woman at a convention, I read his I, Zombie and discovered my newest favorite writer.

What can I say, I'm a contrary wench.

I was thinking of allowing comments for anyone who wanted to respond or argue, but I've had my say about it and my opinion is what it is.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

REVIEW: Beloved Scoundrel by Clarissa Ross


★1/2
SPOILERS AHOY
It stands to reason that the harder it is to acquire a book, the more it's going to stink when you finally do read it.

This puppy is rare and expensive. Inexplicably so. A prime example of price inflation by the greedy bloodsuckers that infest the out-of-print market. I got mine only through the lucky score of a gift card because the thought of dropping my own money on such a gamble gave me a case of the vapors.

So thanks, Mom, and Merry Christmas to you too!

Disappointment aside, I don't regret a moment or other person's dime spent on this Grade A job by a professional hack writer. I'm actually in awe of Dan Ross. He no doubt tossed this off in a Sunday afternoon and probably still had time for a few rounds of golf.

It reads like a free-written rough draft, unapologetically banal in most spots and unbelievably contemptuous for the rest of it. Contemptuous of the reader, that is. The plot twists and turns might as well have a flashing neon sign that says "I don't care if it's crap cuz I got paid."

Despite the fact that it's literary toilet paper, it is a romance where the love interest (well, one of them anyway) is John Wilkes Booth.



It doesn't take long for he and his floppity hair to show up, but the story actually begins with Fanny and David, a British husband and wife acting team, arriving in America to act on the New York stage. They soon find out that their manager is on the lam from the law and they're stranded. Luckily they meet a Jack Sprat & Wife team that work in P.T. Barnum's freak museum and come under his management. When the leading man leaves the company in a snit, Booth is brought in. Then her hubby dies in a train crash and Fanny soon has an affair with Booth (who became obsessed with her as soon as he met her).

She loves him, thinks he's super-talented, and argues with him over the war and his spying activities. Then he off and kills Abe and Fanny reunites with another lover. And then when he gets run over by a runaway horse and wagon, she winds up with another.

An Angel of Death is our Fanny. Everyone she touches, she destroys.

There is little merit in this one. Like I said, it's a gold standard of paid-by-the-word hack jobbing. Conversations keep going and going, the dumbest shit comes out of peoples' mouths, and there's absolutely no reflection or complexity of any kind. And use the word "handsome" a lot. Preferably close to "dark-haired actor." That racks up the word count like gangbusters. When Edwin got blessed with that description, too, I felt sorry for poor Junius Jr. No love for the oldest, most responsible Booth brother? Poor guy.

If anything, the story only illustrated what could have been. Ross knows his historical details, even some minutae about Edwin Booth, and he has John Wilkes' jealousy of his brother's fame be a huge motivating factor in his personality. (Nora Titone wrote a whole book about it - My Thoughts Be Bloody: The Bitter Rivalry Between Edwin and John Wilkes Booth That Led to an American Tragedy).

There is a good story there; you just won't find it at Ross' hand because he couldn't have cared less about writing it.

Creative Writing Challenge:
Now that Booth has gotten some sugar in a romance, what say the rest of the Lincoln Conspirators have their day frisking about the bedsheets before succumbing to the death knell of doomed twagedy? I nominate Lewis Powell next. There's a fangirl army with fervent, fertile imaginations out there on the internet already. (Don't believe me? Google it. Or better yet, go straight to Tumblr.)



He had the proper little misses of 1865 drooling during his trial, too. Not taking advantage of that trainwreck gold mine would be a travesty.

C'mon, fangirls, get cracking.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

REVIEW: Wyndward Fury by Norman Daniels (1979)



Actually more like a 3.5, but plantation porn is such a neglected genre these days and it begs for some gentle rating love.

A rich white bachelor needs to marry and procreate some legal get of pure bloodlines, while keeping some brown sugar on the side. Rebellions, rapin', hangin', and burying alive.

Just another day south of the Mason-Dixon.

The plot bounds along with little cohesion. But that's not the point. Shit happens and everyone moves on to the next antebellum shitstorm. Some events from Book 1 are recycled, only with different characters acting them out this time around.

Pretty much everything is given to the reader via dialogue. No evocative descriptions of the plantation or deep character analysis. If it can't be conveyed with a "Reckon," it's not important. It would be tedious if not for the fact that things keep happening and death/maiming/insanity is around the corner for anyone.

Cheap and tawdry, but it's my kind of cheap and tawdry.

REVIEW: Wyndward Passion by Norman Daniels (1978)



It's Plantation Porn time again, kiddies!

At the core of its perverted little heart, Wyndward Passion is a semi-rewrite of Mandingo. There are some things different about it, but a lot of things - tweaked plots and subplots, descriptions, etc. - that are cribbed straight from that granddaddy of all plantation potberlers. Daniels' blatant homage (thievery?) is deliciously cheap and hackish, while at the same time is an improvement, particularly in the pacing department. Onstott dicked around way too much there.

In short: it's a more stream-lined Mandingo, with just enough differences to make it interesting all on its own. If you've read Onstott's book, you'll notice the similarities.

Jonathan Turner and his son Fitzjohn are making a final run with their slaver ship Wyndward. Keeping a bunch of slaves for their new plantation, they get to work in Virginia raising tobacco, breeding race horses, and the biggest moneymaker: slaves.

Turner's wife Sarah is from Boston and isn't too keen on bossing slaves around, but she gets used to it. Fitz, now with hundreds of slaves under his command and more his father's son than his mother's, tells himself he's not falling in love with his light-skinned Arab bedwench, Nina. He meets Benay Meader on a horse-buying trip and can't get her out of his blood, despite the fact that she sleeps with her cousin. (The whole Meader clan get together for big parties and sleep with each other randomly - aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, fathers, daughters - to the point where mutants are getting birthed on a regular basis.)

The Turner plantation is pretty docile, the slaves well-fed and happy - all except one. And he and Nina bring about a final scene that is ripped from the end of Mandingo, only slightly less gruesome.

It didn't take long for the similarities to become apparent, but I really enjoyed it nevertheless, even though there were lots of moments of dej√† vu. It was perverse, gory, crass, horny, flamingly melodramatic, and totally awesome. I love this genre for every excess it can throw at me, from the cracker dialect to the gross-out scenes of slavery at its most depraved (and Daniels cooked up plenty.) It's a genre that makes you feel something on Every. Single. Page. whether it be rage, LOLZ, nausea, or unwilling sympathy.

Like Mandingo, where I ended up feeling pretty warm towards the Maxwell father and son even though nearly every word coming out of their mouth was godawful and justified any slave rebellion that might whup their asses into the next century, Jonathan & Fitz were just as oddly endearing. The father is haunted by the smell of the slave hold - a demon that threatens to get the better of him throughout the whole story - and Fitz tries to reconcile his northern upbringing with his new life as plantation master. No, it's not a piece of characterization that will win literary prizes, but it worked and sets up potential rocky times ahead for future generations as the country inches closer to war over the coming decades.

Great read, cheap thrills, and a fuckton of dialect apostrophes. What more could you want? Every time I finish one, I have a case of exhaustion with a smidge of exhilaration. :D



This is actually a reissue of two books originally published in the late 60s when plantation lit was still published by more on the way out: Law of the Lash and Master of Wyndward. After the release of the Mandingo movie in '75, Daniels' little potboilers got resurrected and the series continued for 4 more novels. Yay for me. :D

REVIEW: Young Man of Manhattan by Katharine Brush (1930)



This was classic woman's fic that had a laundry list of tropes which still managed to be entertaining, even if it wasn't exactly fresh and original. Maybe it was less run-of-the-mill back in 1930, but to a reader of today so much of it is familiar. Although I still think it was tried-and-true even then, because I could so see this as an early 1930s B-movie from Warner Brothers, maybe starring Loretta Young and David Manners or George Brent.

Well, holy crap, it was turned into a movie.

Claudette Colbert and Ginger Rogers? Norman Foster? Who the hell was he?



Ok, "Fox Star." I don't think so.

Oh dear oh dear oh dear. No no no. I don't see that at all. Well, first off, it looks like they pulled the teeth of the book's plot to turn it into a dumb musical.

But I'll shut up because this isn't a review of a movie I've never seen. :P

So....the story. Toby McLean is a sports writer, part of an elite clique of newspapermen who revel in their status as night owls, elbow rubbers with the greats, and committed bachelors. They also cover for each other when it comes to debts and hangovers interfering with deadlines. It's a good life.


Friday, December 14, 2012

REVIEW: The Darker Side of Love by Anna James (1979)


★1/2
Since I'm a Victorian theatre junkie, I've been looking forward to this one for quite a while and it delivered more often than it didn't. As with novels about 1910s-1920s Hollywood, I think I'm going to have to resign myself to not finding The Perfect Theatre Novel, pull the stick out of my ass, and lower my standards. Still, this one wasn't shabby. But there were a few things I wish the author had done to make it a richer read.

Katherine Lawrence grows up in Reconstruction-era South Carolina and wants to be an actress. Her family hopes she'll find a nice boy of good family and settle down, but when a group of touring actors pass through town one night, she grabs her chance and runs off with them to find her fame and fortune. In New York, she falls totes in love at first sight with Nick Van Dyne, a rich guy who financially backs all of the touring company's productions, and the feeling is mutual. Even though he's had scads of mistresses, Katherine is The One for him.

But happiness doesn't last long because circumstances force them apart, Nick on the lam from the law for swindling and Katherine becoming a star in London and muse to a bastard half-gypsy aristocrat, lover to a doomed Irish actor, and wife to a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

REVIEW: A Son of the Sahara by Louise Gerard (1922)

I've got a fever, and I need more sheiks.


I stumbled across this purely by accident while feverishly downloading Google Books to my newish tablet willy nilly. Love that public domain Victorian and Edwardian shit, and when the cutoff year is 1923 some of these sheiky tales get in under that copyright cutoff. (There are so many others that are beyond my reach because bookseller prices are INSANE, but hopefully I'll live long enough for some of them to perhaps leech back into the digital freebiesphere.)


If one can look past the screaming vintage racism that permeates the entire narrative, this little gem from 1922 - written during the height of sheik fever - is a romance trip down your grandma's (or great-grandma's) memory lane.

The tagline on the dustjacket (according to an online dealer site) is "I have owned a hundred women!" Right there, just with that, it will forever be a favorite and close to my ravished little heart.

THE PLOT:
Raoul Le Breton/Sheik Cassim is really the purely white son of a French captain and his wife, but he doesn't know that. He meets rich girl Pansy Langham in the Grand Canaries and is totally fascinated with her because she doesn't fall all over him like his Frenchy and harem hussies. He chases her all over, and she wants to say yes, but that tainted half-breed blood keeps forcing her to say no. Unfortunately Pansy's dad is the one who gave the order to have his presumed-real father, the Sultan, killed. So when Raoul finds out, he goes apedump and abducts her to his harem where he tries to wear her down even more. There's harem hussy conniving, hyena attacks, bombardments by the French, and a final reveal that holy white blood flows unhindered in Raoul's veins and therefore coitus and marriage will not be an offense in the eyes of God.

LET'S GET THIS OVER WITH:
OK, yeah, totally racist. But then again, it was the 1920s. There ain't gonna be any real miscegenation in the mainstream pulp like this. Pansy berates Raoul for his inescapable savagery based on his race, and Raoul says he is who he is because of his race. So when it's all revealed at the end that he's 100% white, he's relieved that he can embrace "white ideals," which have a blot-free track record and have no flaws whatsoever.

If there's anything about this book that would offend anybody, it's the race angle.

So, moving on...

Q: IS THIS LIKE "THE SHEIK"?
A: KINDA, BUT NOT REALLY.

If you've read The Sheik by Edith M. Hull, you know how dense and flowery it is. Gerard's writing is much less frilly, almost Harlequin Presents simple. (In fact, strip it of the racism, give it a dippy title like The Sheik's Reluctant Virgin Bride, and it could be reissued as an HP with no problem.) Chapters are short and less focused on mood, but emphasize dialogue and action. In this respect, it was much easier to read. Maybe not as rich on the eyes, but it seemed like more happened. I savored both books, didn't want them to end, and got involved with the characters, even though they differ so much.


The sale proceeded in tense excitment -- twenty men
were bidding for her.
The hero, Raoul/Cassim, is much less brutal than Ahmed, but probably because Ahmed was more of a nomad sheik whereas Raoul is the kind who divides his time between boning chicks in Paris and boning chicks in his harem. He's got a lot of them hanging all over him, vying for his favors and who is he to say no? He's the grandaddy of all these Harlequin globe-trotting tycoon billionaire mansluts.

Lady Diana in "The Sheik" was a standoffish cold fish, and didn't really seem to have much of a pulse. She wrung her hands with her lust for Ahmed after his nightly visits, but I didn't cotton to her the way I did to Pansy. She was such a sweetheart! Tomboyish and goofy and quick with a comeback, she also has a heart of gold when it comes to her horse, which she saved from a bunch of abusive bastards at a London stable. That bit o' backstory did a lot to make me cozy up to her character, and it tied in well with the scene of Pansy in danger in the desert. (Animal loyalty not resulting in death FTW!)

This one has no rape. Ahmed repeatedly ran roughshod over Diana, but Raoul is quite restrained and apparently figures that having to rape Pansy would hurt his pride and dignity. He instead decides to wear her down with his devotion and charm, while still being cocky and arrogant and braggy about all his conquests. So he is probably more palatable to modern sensibilities than Ahmed is. If you didn't like The Sheik because of that, then this one might be easier to swallow.

THEY MADE A MOVIE OF THIS??
Yes, they did (with future husband-and-wife-for-awhile Bert Lytell & Claire Windsor) and I so wanna see it.




Unfortunately it's lost, like 75% of all movies made pre-1930. (Goddammit.) Gutenberg's HTML file of this had these stills, which is probably nearly all that survives of the movie. Sad, man.

FINAL WORDS:
You like sheiks? You like Harleys? Then you have to read it. And this public domain title is out there everywhere, so there's no excuse not to.

Johanna Lindsey Redux


No, I'll never learn!

First up:

She looks like Amy Winehouse, which should have
enhanced the experience. Sadly, no.


 
The story of a pwecious darling orphaned Pooky Honey Boo Boo Starshine who is the apple of her series-bait uncles' eyes, and the pussy "rake" Nicholas Eden who is all wah-wah about being a bastard.

General idiocy ensues.

The heroine's name is Regina, but I got slammed with "Reggie" the entire book. Shoot me.

When I see "Reggie" my mind immediately goes to Upper Class Twit, not Smokey Siren of Seduction.

Meet Reggie.
She really was sumthin' speshul, and her relationship with her uncles was such that, had the author been Lora Leigh, things would have turned into a Very Special Regency episode of Marly's Choice.

THEY REALLY LOVE THEIR LITTLE NIECE.

(OK, so Marly's "uncles" weren't really, but you get my point. Reggie was so "unconventional" that I'm sure butt plugs would have been welcomed with a grin and a shrug and a "Why not?" After all, she climbed up a tree once to escape a wild boar. She's a jaded adventuress and nothing can spook her.)

The Malory uncles? Other reviews say they're totes awsum, but I thought they sucked. OMG, they would not shut up or stop shoving their charisma and horseplay and handsomeness and bickering and "unconventionality" down my throat. It didn't help that there were about a million characters in this book, they all just happened to be connected in some way, and I was apparently supposed to care. I blame the patented Lindsey big font on some of these Avons. It makes me think I'm supposed to be visually or mentally impaired and I get cranky.

Yeah, I put on my DERP face when I started reading it because I knew it was the only way it wouldn't hurt like a chili pepper enema. And it lasted about 30%, so I want a cookie for at least trying. Double Chocolate Chip, please. Thanks.

At first glance of the next few books, continuity might be a bit rocky. Apparently it's notNicholas who almost got James "Arrrgh I'm a Pirate!" Malory nearly hanged, but someone else (or so says the description for Gentle Rogue). Or maybe JL just makes crap up as she thinks of it. I'm thinking that might be the case.

Why do I keep reading her backlist? (Yes, I'll read TONY'S and EDWARD'S and JAMES'S and JASON'S crap installments, too. Maybe. Oh, who am I kidding?)

I blame you, Bob and Elaine. Your artwork makes me want to read whatever crap is under that sparkly cover.


And sorry for the pithiness of this next review, but I'd just finished reading a JL, you understand. I was a semi-broken woman.




You know, most Johanna Lindsey books I read would get an extra star if the last 1/3rd wasn't always the H and h deliberately misinterpreting and non-communicating about Random Dumb Shit and having Psycho Mood Swings from minute to minute.

This one was quite better than the usual, though. No Malorys in sight! Woot!


And now for something completely different...

We interrupt this bodice ripping blog to present an oddity. But it was completely WTF, so it still has something in common with the rippers we love so well, and I truly feel more people have to know about it. Perish the thought that stuff like this should fall through the literary memory hole.

Juan, the White Slave & the Rebel Planter's Daughter by William D. Ritner (1857)


I feel like a literary archaeologist, reading these long-lost crappy little gems from the historical publishing underbelly. Outside of a trainwreck Harlequin or bodice ripper, I rarely have this much fun.

Juan, the White Slave; and the Rebel Planter's Daughter is an antebellum dime novel that is 57 different kinds of schizo plot WTF, crammed into 97 pages of very small type. 49 lines per page. (I counted.)

It's also a grammarian's nightmare. Tenses wobble between past and present, typos breed like bunnies, and you go from comma feast to famine on a regular basis. But I dare you to read it and not be charmed at least a little bit.

The story starts - and I say starts because the premise that is half-assedly set up gets chucked in favor of drama stings and arbitrary plot twists and scenes that are Utterly Freakin' Bizarre (but more on that later) - with the octoroon Juan being a star actor on the Philly stage. He's in love with the southern belle Beatrice Capello, but Beatrice is in love with Juan's friend Sinclair Duval. But Juan's co-star Cecelia is Sinclair's sweetheart and Beatrice decides to get rid of her rival. (Got all that?)

"Ooooh!" I thought. "This will be an intriguey kinda thing!"

Well, Beatrice apparently had a hair appointment and forgot all about her plans of vengeance, because we never hear about that again. (She gets her way, though, without getting her hands dirty, and the scene in which it happens is one of those rubbernecking WTFs that are scattered throughout this turgid little corker.)

It also turns out that Juan is related to more people in his life than he thinks. Every time a "I'm your _______!" happened, the world got smaller and smaller.

Juan is driven to avenge his dead slave mother by seeking out his father and killing him. (Guess who Beatrice's daddy is...)

The craziest part of the loosely-connected-series-of-events (it doesn't deserve the word "plot") are the group of young bloods and dandies who are chummy with the bad guy Livingston. As a sample of their scenes, and the writing, I give you the following:



This group of yahoos is part of a Jesuit conspiracy within the Secesh movement. Yes, Jesuits. The author makes no bones about being an anti-papist nativist, and has Livingston get his jollies by masquerading as a Jesuit priest with an elevator/trap door contraption in the confessional to lower unsuspecting female penitents into the dungeon below where he has his wicked way with them. (I shit you not.)

OK, this whole scene made me LOL my ass off, so you get to see it, too. Tim Pillington and Muzzy Mortimore (Best. Name. EVAR!) provide the lulz in spades:



Tim later dies of mortification when the leg of his doeskin trousers get snagged on a coach door and tears. There's no ambiguity about the scene at all. He dies of embarrassment. Zounds! (Seriously, y'all have got to read this and it's on Google Books, so there's no excuse not to.)

Juan gets stashed away in a silver mine in Peru (read it for yourself to find out how!) while the crazy stuff continues back in the States. He escapes (even if you read it, you won't find out how - he just does!) and things end all happy happy for the good guys. (But too bad about Cecelia.)

The last chapter is a rousing anti-slavery diatribe from the author. Weirdly, his attitudes about abolitionists is a bit ambiguous and inconsistent, but that doesn't seem to be Ritner's forte, at least not in the spelling department. (Honorable mention: "shackles" were "shuckles" at one point.)

So with The Three Stooges (give or take a few) yukking things up in duels and fashions and the overall utter lack of commas (I guess they were used to shell Vicksburg or something) and the absolutely ADD plot (which includes George Washington descending from heaven and zapping the asses of two slave-owners with lightning, all the while quoting Old TestamentIshityounot), Ritner's little tale enchanted me in spite of myself.

Originally published in 1857, it was reprinted in 1861 and then again in 1865 (probably in the flush of Union victory). This indicates some level of popularity among the masses.

"Hey, war is hell. Sometimes you just gotta read fun crap to get through the day-to-day."
-- William T. Sherman


REVIEW: Mystic Rose by Patricia Gallagher (1977)

My man Tom Hall's lurvely artwork.


Ooooh, this one was gooooooood.....

Ahhhh, the healing properties of a good historical romance with well-thought out character arcs and solid sense of place and atmosphere after coming off a cardboard clich√© could-be-anytime-anywhere shoddy fuckfest (aka On Dublin Street - worst book of 2012, hands down).

Mystic Rose is primarily the story of one Star Lamont, a spoiled and fragile Southern belle who hates her stepmother and step-siblings, loves parties and balls, and wants nothing more than to marry Grant Russell. But when she comes back home from a year's exile in a Boston finishing school, she finds Grant (unwillingly) engaged to her smirking step-sister Lorna. While carrying a torch for the lily-livered gent, she runs into Yankee Captain Troy Stewart at the wedding reception and sparks fly. He starts courting her in his way and, while her eyes still remain on Grant, they occasionally wander a little in Troy's direction.

The War of 1812 interferes with Star's social life and she sneaks away to see Troy when he comes into port, but her temper gets the best of her and ruins her peace of mind and sense of purpose. So she retreats to her plantation where disaster after disaster gives her quite a jab at maturity.

The middle 1/3rd of this book is intense. For fear of spoiling stuff, I won't say exactly what, but Star's character is given room to breathe and grow and the arc is believable. I loved that she matured on her own, coming to Troy late in the book as a mature woman.

I get so annoyed with the romance formula today of the hero and heroine being this dopey symbiotic unit, losing their individuality (if they ever had it, since it's standard to have them meet by the end of Chapter 1) as they remain glued at the hip for the entirety of the book. I'm a fan of the long separation, and this book has one. Troy is completely out of the picture as Star struggles with her feelings of resentment against her stepmother, her attitude towards slavery, her desire to inherit, her squeamishness of anything ugly, etc. She has a total rethink of everything she thought was previously set in stone, and she holds true to her new self when pressed to do differently. Troy might plant the seed of doubt in her mind about slavery, but she cultivates it on her own over the long haul. It's not a neat epiphany in a big lump, but a slow and steady growth.

Even as the spoiled belle in the beginning, I didn't dislike her because she still seemed to have substance. And that only increased as the book went on. So when she and Troy finally hook up in the last 40 pages of the book, it was a long-delayed reward that had been well-earned.

I also really liked the southern perspective of the War of 1812, especially their attitude towards the New Englanders' (and by extension, Troy) "unpatriotic" stance by desiring secession from the Union. (What a laugh, right??) Since I'd recently read a book set in New England during that time with the secession issue front and center (This is the House), it was nice to have already had a bit of background info on one of the issues that was prodding Star and Troy towards loggerheads.

All the secondary characters were well-done, with at-first-glance unlikable ones (such as Lorna and her mother) becoming more sympathetic as events mellow both them and Star into more amicable relationships based on maturity and respect. Star's mammy Mauma was one of my favorite characters, vinegary and a stabilizing influence on her ward. Star's stepbrother Lance is a total a-hole and, well, he gets his just desserts for all his greedy scheming and murderous inclinations.

The only thing that made it drag was the last 20 pages or so when we get the full wedding scene and wedding night. Seeing it on the page isn't necessary for me since I can imagine it well enough (and what the author shows is often a letdown). That was the case here. It fell short and I'd have rather had it left at Star and Troy embracing, saying their "I love you"s and then ring the curtain down. I don't have to see everything to still feel emotionally engaged with the story. But I realize I'm in the extreme minority when it comes to that in romance novels.

Still, not too much to complain about, so it gets 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5.