Sunday, April 14

Bad Romance Book Review – Sins of a Virgin

Sins of a Virgin by Anna Randol is a gritty crime novel dressed up in the slinky red dress of a romance. The blurb led me to believe I was getting the lustful love story of a scandalous courtesan and a disciplined police officer but what I received was much, much more.
After the Napoleonic Wars end Madeline Valdan returns to London. She had been one of three great spies but now that the war was over she was no longer needed and cast out. But Madeline has a plan to make a lot of money fast – become the most famous and sought after courtesan in London and auction off her virginity to the highest bidder.
Gabriel Huntford became a Bow Street Runner after his sister’s death and finally, after seven years, he’s come across a solid lead into her murder. When Gabriel is assigned as protection for Madeline he sees it as the perfect opportunity to investigate. Although they each keep their past close to their chests, both are quick to realise that the other is more than they seem.
Anyone who knows me knows I have terrible issues with female characters. Romance heroines are even worse than the average female in fiction. They’re always bold and brave, but need to be rescued every chapter by their man. They’re stubborn, but they never take charge. They’re plain ass two dimensional.
Madeline Valdan was different. She was a believably strong female. People know I usually have issues with strong females as well, but Madeline was shockingly different. Madeline had had a difficult past but had adapted and hardened herself against becoming cold-hearted and cruel to the point where she also believed it. Madeline had been a spy for so long she’d completely forgotten who she really was and only knew the roles she played. And it was believable. I believed this woman, which I rarely do with female characters. Never romance characters.
Gabriel was the first hero of a romance I’ve found myself falling for. Like Madeline, his flaws seemed real. My list of fictional crushes to the side will tell you that I usually prefer the flawed characters. Neither Madeline nor Gabriel came across as a Mary Sue once. They had none of those “fake flaws” that could be likeable and sometimes kind of be considered complimentary. Most romance characters have one flaw and it’s usually stubbornness which isn’t usually treated as a flaw at all.
There were times Gabriel had to save Madeline’s life, which yeah, pissed me off, but someone really wanted her dead and most of the time she fought to save herself just as hard as Gabriel. There were times she did a better job of it.
Each piece of their past was revealed at just the right time to be most effective and you could really feel the way it affected the character.
Like I said at the start, this book feels more like a regency crime novel than a romance, the focus being on finding the man who murdered Gabriel’s sister as well as another girl. The investigation had me on the edge of my seat at times and baffled by some of the red herrings. However, although I say all this, I did guess the correct killer pretty early on in the book, I just didn’t have any proof other than the frequency of his name occurring. Randol should probably work on that if she ever does another crime themed novel; which I hope she does.
I loved Sins of a Virgin, I’m a little ashamed to say. But it never once came across as your typical romance novel. If this book had been published by Random House or Penguin instead of Avon Romance I’m sure a larger range of people would pick it up unabashed asides from the target demographic. If you’re looking for a really decent Romance novel and enjoy a little intrigue, Sins of a Virgin is the book for you. I personally cannot wait to get my hands on the sequels and read other books by Anna Randol.
I give it four out of five stars and it gets zero for so-bad-its-good. It simply wasn’t bad. I, at least, loved it.

Monday, April 1

Bad Romance Book Review: The Key

Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve blogged, guys, but… I’ve kind of misplaced Bound to a Warrior. Disappointing, I know. I also haven’t had the time or motivation to dedicate myself to anymore Story Saturdays. I’m intending to change this. Hopefully – hopefully – I will write a blog a week (or at least a fortnight), either a Story Saturday, or a Bad Romance Book Review. To start it off – The Key by Lindsay Sands.

When Iliana Wildwood’s mother is forced to marry a ruthless and greedy man the only way Iliana can escape and hope to free her mother is to marry Duncan, a barbarous Scottish Highlander. Although there is something about the virile warrior that makes her weak at the knees, Iliana refuses to let him into her bed until he becomes more civilised. Iliana has the perfect device to resist Duncan’s advances… a chastity belt.
However, Duncan is not one to easily give up and accept defeat. Changing his tactics, Duncan decides to romance Iliana into willingly, breathlessly, giving up… The Key.

When in a bookstore there are four things I do, every time. First, I look over the classics to see which titles I can get for $10. I browse the Young Adult section, lingering on L and M, checking for miss-shelving, then, with a sigh, I ask an employee where Margo Lanagan is (they don’t have her, I should check online if I’m ever to read Sea Hearts). The fourth think I do is look over the romance section for the worst and most ridiculous sounding book.
The Key was pointed out to me by my boyfriend while I was doing this at a QBD in Brisbane. I’d all but settled on Sins of a Virgin but followed his pointed finger and picked up the Key to read the blurb. Chastity belt. Sold. (I also bought Sins of a Virgin but it will wait for another day. You’ll be disappointed by my review for it)
There are four plots in the Key; three minor plot points and one main plot. Three of these would make great stories. One is stupidly ridiculous. Guess which is the main story line?
  1. There is Iliana’s mother’s forced marriage and the need to rescue her from a violent, thieving man.
  2. Duncan’s sister runs away to escape her own impending marriage and is caught by enemies of Duncan’s clan, needing Duncan to lead an army to rescue her.
  3.  There is an invasion of the castle.
  4. And Iliana refuses to sleep with her husband, despite desiring him, all because he smells.

That’s it. He smells. The driving plot line. Iliana even straight up tells him, “have a bath and I’d love to sleep with you. I’ll tear your clothes right off you and thrust you inside me myself”*
But Duncan is too stubborn. He has a bath twice a year, January and July, and it’s only June.
I have polled several people and everyone** says “Hell yes” or, alternatively, a quiet, bashful “yeah…”. This is not a realistic plot. Come on, Sands, there is so much more you could do with a chastity belt. A man not being willing to bathe for sex is not one of them. It is simply not realistic. Men have gone to war just to get their willy wet. Look at Troy!
When the sex scenes finally happen they are nothing to write home about. I’ve already forgotten what happened. I think they do it against a tree once? Iliana lures Duncan into a bath and… I think they have sex? The initial interactions between Duncan and Iliana when she is wearing the belt feel as awkward and uncomfortable as a Target customer whose friend is insisting on lodging a complaint that one of the female mannequins looks too masculine. Everyone, particularly the audience, experiences a little cringing, a lot of shame, and just doesn’t know how to react.
The relationship between Duncan and Iliana is also clumsy. Although we see Duncan trying to help Iliana and look after her we don’t really see their relation develop. It goes from hate and lust to plain lust then, suddenly, out of nowhere they’re saying they love each other when really you think they really mean to say “I kinda tolerate you. Let’s bang.”
If we overlook the main plotline and just ignore Duncan. The story is kind of interesting. I like the story about Iliana’s mother. However, there was nothing new or creative. A lot of it I’d seen before and it just seemed re-done. It was just kind of… bland.
If you want a laugh, a quick read, and to cringe a lot, then the Key is the perfect novel for you. If you want something substantial and decent, try a different genre and not an Avon Romance. The Key gets a one out of five on the decent scale and a three on the so-bad-its-good scale.

*May be paraphrased.
**Except my mother who was the single outlier, claiming “I ain’t changing for no man! I’m a strong, independent woman, if he wants me he takes me how I am!”* But she’s kind of bitter.

Next time I’ll review Sins of a Virgin about a courtesan auctioning her virginity, or, if you give me a genre, you might receive a Story Saturday.