Eldest by Christopher Paolini
The writings of Eragon are the lamentations of readers…

NOTE: I listened to this on audiobook, so espect to find the names and places probably hideously misspelled. I would make an effort to correct the spelling if I cared.

Eragon and the Vardan have defeated Galbatorix’s forces at Farthen Dur. But Eragon’s journey has only begun. He must now travel to Ellesmera to learn the ways of the dragon riders from the Elves. Meanwhile, his cousin, Roran, must defend his home of Carvahall from the Raz’ac.

But you might recognize it better as:

Luke Skywalker and the Rebel Alliance have defeated the Empire’s Death Star. But Luke’s journey has only begun. He must now travel to Dagobah to learn the ways of the Jedi from the last remaining Jedi Master, a crazy old alien, Yoda. Meanwhile, Leia must defend the Millennium Falcon from Darth Vader and retrieve Han, her true love, from his clutches.

I strove hard and long to find something admirable, enjoyable about this book. After much head-scratching I have one thing: Oromis teaching Eragon magic. Don’t ask me why those parts interested me, but they did (few and far between though they be). Oh, no, wait, I have another favorite part: Vanna (White?) the Elf smack Eragon around. God, that almost makes the book worth reading. Well, not really…

Other than these two very teeny, tiny blips on the Eldest radar, I found the “story” painful to listen to, hour after agonizing hour. I must be an ascetic, for mustering through almost 24 hours of this mess. Actually, I probably listened to less, as I tended to wander off mentally only to return and find that absolutely nothing had happened! It’s sad, when you’re reading a novel only to learn that half of what you are reading isn’t even important to the story. It’s either a big, red warning sign that the author is writing piles and piles of fluff or that the editor fell asleep while editing the draft. In Eldest’s case, I believe it was both.
As we saw in Eragon, the characters in Eldest are terrible, starting with Eragon, our loosely-defined “hero” and a pitifully concealed variant of Aragorn/Luke Skywalker. (NOTE: Be prepared for copious comparison to LOTR and Star Wars, as Paolini loved both so much, he decided to write a fanfic about them hooking up and having babies. Eragon and Eldest are those “babies.) Unlike either Aragorn or Luke, he is the most boring, bland, uninteresting, emotionless, stupid, insipid (yes, I can use big words too!) protagonists I’ve ever read. Eragon never feels anything, he just cries out in anger or pain. The audience never feels any of his anger or pain, we are just told he has it. We suffer through his never-ending descriptions of descriptions of descriptions of everything around him, told with wide-eyed awe that made me wonder if this guy had been locked in a box as a child. We grimace as he stumbles over wooing Arya. We wince as things that are obvious, such as whether the Twins are traitors (they are, it’s not a secret, you could tell in Eragon), are completely beyond him. We are belabored with reading him study such anachronistic subjects like electricity, magnetism, modern physics (Gravity!), and microbiology (milk spoils because of tiny organisms). I suppose if this novel had been established as a steampunk novel like The Golden Compass, this could have worked, but as it stands, this only shows how “enlightened” the Elves and Eragon are, to be studying these odd subjects (Medieval Elves know about microorganisms that spoil milk? People don’t think electricity and magnetism are magic?). My head spent most of these sessions impacting a desk. I have the bruises as proof. And when Eragon becomes an Elf in the most contrived manner…I am still recovering from that one.
Then we have Arwen—I mean, Arya. We learn here that she is—GASP!—a princess. Really, did no one see that coming? About the only other plot twist they could throw at us is if she is Eragon’s sister. She is the most distant, cold, uninviting character (not Elf, not female, not protagonist, character) I’ve ever encountered. How are we supposed to want Eragon to fall in love with her when I’ve seen granite with more personality?! How are we supposed to think she is so much better than dwarves when she is the one to start a fight with a dwarf about religion (she barges into their temple and begins to tell them how stupid they are to believe in gods with no provocation)? Why are we supposed to feel anything when she reunites with her mother, Queen Iszlanzardi? And what the heck was the beef between them anyway? Why bother to bring it up if there isn’t even going to be a fight or a growth or a purpose to the difference of opinion?
Then we have the poor forsaken Gimli-clone that accompanies Eragon. He is almost completely forgotten in the book, so much so that the author at one point finally remembers him and has Eragon comment on it. Why is he even in this book? What does he contribute to the story? Oh, right, can’t knock a story when there really isn’t one.
Then we have all the characters that are basically carbon-copies of Star Wars and LOTR. Eragon is Luke with Aragorn’s name, Arya is Arwen/Leia, Murtagh is Han, Galbatorix is the Emperor/Darth Vader, Morzan is Darth Vader, Brom is Obi-Wan, Nasuada is Eowyn, Ajihad is Theoden, the Twins are Wormtongue, Orik is Chewbacca, Oromis is Yoda, Roran is Leia, Katrina is Han Solo…about the only character that could possibly be considered his own is Angela, but even she is supposedly based off his sister. That doesn’t even include the Dwarves, Elves and Orcs (called Urgals) from Lord of the Rings. In the hands of a good author, this could be done decently, so that the characters pay homage to Star Wars and Lord of the Rings without being half-@ssed rip offs, but Paolini is far from a good author.
Worse than the characters, which I could at least stand in Eragon (I’ll admit, Brom was my favorite and it was shame when he died), the story is hideously, mind-numbingly boring. Absolutely nothing happens throughout the book! It’s all a long, boring retelling of journeys: one of Eragon’s and another of Roran’s.
Eragon is sent to Dagobah to learn the ways of the Jedi under the tutelage of Yoda, the Last Jedi.
Oops, I meant Eragon is sent to Ellesmera to learn the ways of the Dragon Riders under the tutelage of Oromis, the actual last Dragon Rider. It’s so easy to make that mistake, since not only did Paolini steal SW characters, but also stole the entire plot of The Empire Strikes Back.
Now, I realize that Eragon’s plot was pretty much identical to A New Hope. But I could at least ignore the similarities by yelling profanities at the offending sections or getting lost in the fast pace of the novel. Eldest doesn’t even bother to disguise the plot, preferring to spend pages upon pages on nothing. It lingers too long in Farthen Dur, too long on the journey to Ellesmera, so that Eragon doesn’t even reach it until around Chapter 27 (which might not sound like much since the book is a freakin’ 77 chapter doorstopper, but when you are listening to it hour after agonising hour, it is forever). So what happens in those 27 chapters? Well, if you guessed fighting battles, intense chase scenes, or standoffs with the bad guys, go to the corner and sit there and think about what you just did!! No, Paolini fills his “epic” fantasy with each agonizing step of the journey. I wouldn’t be surprised if Paolini detailed each day of the journey. Every stop is given in excruciating detail. Every race Eragon meets gives him long, boring lectures about their culture, their language, their religion, their clothes…anything and everything to pad this story out. Every trip down a river, every haul up a hill is recounted, every time they sent up camp…be prepared for a nap, folks!
Even when we finally get to Ellesmera, the story doesn’t pick up. Instead, we trudge through Eragon’s thoughts about ants (THRILLS!), Oromis’ mind-boggling lessons on morality and ethics (CHILLS!), and Paolini’s barely concealed opinions on religion, veganism, and marriage (may I climb out the window SILLS?). No wonder my favorite part was where Vanna whips Eragon. That’s the only scene where anything happens!
The second “story” is Roran’s story of what happened in Carvahall. Wasn’t that the guy who scooted off at the beginning of Eragon to try to make money to marry that chick? So…why is he here? Why was he ignored all through Eragon but now his story is important? Roran leads his people, Moses-like, out of Carvahall to the South to the safety of the Vardan. I have loads of insults for the stupidity of the townfolk, leaving their village at the whim of one man, to the clichéd motivational speech Roran gives, to yet another damsel-in-distress (women in these novels are just terrible, they can’t keep themselves from being kidnapped for the life of them), to another horrible, awkward romance, to the complete misunderstanding of how the world works, but I really don’t care enough about this part to dredge them up. Insert your own witticisms here.
By the way, has anyone noticed that there is little explanation to why the Empire is bad? Okay, so we have the Raz’ac killing the folks of Carvahall, but that is only because of Eragon/Roran, and only because the dragon egg was stolen from Galbatorix. Last time I checked, thieves were punishable by law. If someone had stolen something from Eragon, he darn well would have gotten a horse and rode off to beat that thief’s @ss…why wouldn’t the government do something similar? If given the mind, one could reason that the Vardan are the enemies, for stealing, for being terrorists, and for being traitors to the government (and with how corrupt the Council are, an odd bit of realism in this stereotypical fantasy, it’s not a hard thought to wrap your head around). If you are going to make bad guys, you show them being bad guys. You show Galbatorix and Morzan killing people, oppressing people, stealing for no reason, burning down rows of pretty blue flowers, etc., not just tell the audience they are bad and expect us to root for Eragon and the Vardan.
Now we get to the fun part: the writing style. Oh, God Almighty, the writing style. Paolini is very aware he’s trying to write an epic, because it sounds just like an epic should. Well, a quick glance shows it sounding like an epic should. If you read with any modicum of attention, you’ll see that it reads like the worst LOTR fanfiction on the internet. Too much time is spent on needless descriptions (Oh, yes, let’s describe each of the Dwarves gods and goddesses!), padded wording, and clichéd phrases. Some of the worst passages I’ve found include:
“Slippers flashing beneath her dress, like mice darting from a hole.” WORST. DESCRIPTION. EVER. Mice now dart out of a hole, back into the hole, and out of the hole, all in quick rapid succession? Was this really the best way to describe…what is Paolini describing???
“Eragon surreptitiously watched the Elf, curious to what he looked like without his clothes.” Uh, and why is Eragon hitting on Arya and pouting when he fails disastrously?
“Eragon savored the epics as he might a well-cooked meal.” Who said you couldn’t eat what you read?
“Anxiety ran through his voice like a taut bow string.” Run, Anxiety, run! Get away from the bad simile!
“gyrating walls of ebony water” No, I would say “purple”, as in “purple prose”.
And then, of course, as I’ve briefly touched on earlier, Paolini breaks some of the author’s Golden Rules. “Show, don’t tell”. “Good prose should be invisible”. “Don’t lose the pacing by trying to describe your setting”. “The word ‘said’ is your best friend in dialogue.” And so on.
And now, I get into the audiobook. Most of the time, I don’t bother to comment, as the narrators do a good job at narrating. But I absolutely hated one thing about this narrator: his voices. They weren’t bad, even if the women were nearly impossible to tell apart from the men, but the absolute low point was the dragons. For the dragons, the narrator growled in a low, deep, raspy voice. This wasn’t bad for a short sentence here and there, but for long, long, long passages (which Paolini writes a lot of), it was so bad, I was very close to skipping over the section, just to stop listening to the horrible voice.
If you are interested in reading a cross-over fan fiction of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, I recommend you go to fan-fiction.net. If you want to read horrible characters, unending descriptions, bad romance, and a thin as plastic wrap plot stretched over 71 chapters that reads like Star Wars with characters and settings from Lord of the Rings, read Eldest. If you didn’t like Eragon, Eldest will only make you madder.
(Review submitted by a Shelf of Shame blogger!)

7th Son: Descent by J. C. Hutchins
I honestly think this book gave me a concussion. But first, a plot summary.NOTE: I received this from the Amazon Vine program (and regret every moment of it).Seven men are abducted and find out they are all clones named John Michael Smith. A supersecret government organization (and really, what ones aren’t?) has created them to…look cute in Christmas cards? To say “I’m in two places at once”? I’ve finished the book, and I’m still not sure. Anyway, John Michael Smith Alpha, the original source material, has gone mad science experiment, kidnapped their “mother”, and is generally wreaking lots of havoc. So our seven clones have to band together and stop him.The One Reason Reading This Book Wasn’t a Horrible Decision:The cloning idea was interesting (hence, why I requested this book in the first place). I’ve always been a nerd for cloning stories. Also, when the action FINALLY gets into gear, Hutchins writes it well.

Okay, so that’s two, but frak it, after all the damage this book has done to my brain, I think I have an excuse for being unable to count.

The Ten Reasons Why Reading This Book Is Totally Not Worth the Above One Reason:
(in absolutely no order because I don’t want to bother to take the time to try to rank all these horrors to humanity)

1. The Introduction. When I first tried to read this, I couldn’t get two pages past the first chapter. Not only do we have the most unbelievable intro (a four-year-old CHILD kills a PRESIDENT and yells obscenities?!), but then we are thrust into the post-coital life of John. He has just finished boinking Sarah and is off for more cigarettes. Number one, the child assassin is completely unbelievable, even if it is later explained in a semi-understandable way. Number two, I don’t care about this John character and mentioning his amazing sex life as an introduction to him is NOT going to make me care about him more. If I hadn’t been so desperate to get this book out of my to-read shelf, I would never have come back to it.

2. Stereotypical characters. Every. Single. Character. Is a stereotype. I am not joking. It’s disgusting and frustrating. No wonder I smacked my head so much with this book (Note to self: Punish the BOOK not YOURSELF when reading)! No wonder I found myself screaming at it. And in case you don’t believe me, here’s a slice:
Michael: Marine. Says “hoss” and “fubar”. Can organize a strike force and invade any building, even if he may or may not be trained for that because Marines can do ANYTHING. The only thing that breaks him from the mold is his homosexuality, but that is another topic for discussion.
John: The “free-floating” musician. Bartender and self-proclaimed “black sheep”. Must be the resident Marty Stu or Author Avatar, because he damn near narrates the whole thing (including going to a Club for a military-ish mission) and pretty much is uber awesome despite doing zippo.
Thomas: Pudgy priest. Bawls on command and rubs rosary beads so we know that, like, he’s totally into God. Oh, yeah, and he worries about being soulless, because, you know, he’s totally into God.
Kilroy2.0: The computer geek. Constantly called a lunatic and giggles. Oh, yeah, and obscenely overweight because, you know, all of us that spend a lot of time on the internet or with computers are 300+ pounds. Oh, yeah, and lives in a room with no lights, no windows, and no human contact (fortunately, it is NOT his parents’ basement). How did this book get so many podcast downloads? This is basically like smacking everyone who does stuff on the computer in the face with a brick.
Jay: UN simpering wuss–I mean, “lobbyist” (or whatever, it doesn’t ultimately matter). The wife wears the pants in the relationship. I’m surprised he doesn’t regularly wet himself with the way he acts in here.
Jack: The pot-belly, bearded geneticist. Oh, he also has a family…not that that fact is very important except for the random times he wants to throw it in there to remind us.
Dr. Mike: Criminologist occasionally called a “politician” for whatever reason. He’s loud, obnoxious and unlikeable. Oh, and he doesn’t have a sig-o, probably because he’s so loud, obnoxious and unlikeable.
John Alpha: Crazy mad clone (sorta) who runs away with technology that makes ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE for him to be able to obtain.
Not to mention, we also get a racist Texan oil tycoon who comes down on presidents who don’t call in two days time, a 70+ year-old vice president who gets a hard on for a buxom Indian woman even though he is married and has children/grandchildren, a fat, smoking Russian soldier, and an evil, insane Nazi scientist (because NO good conspiracy story is without one of those). Atrocious.
3. Pop culture references. I swear to God, Hutchins must have gotten paid by the reference, because the pages are littered with them. Raiders of the Lost Ark, Frankenstein, Ben Affleck, Short Circuit, Star Wars…and those are only the ones I recognized/remembered!
4. Excessive amount of time dedicated to “backstory”. The first chapter is over, and all seven clones have been kidnapped. The next almost 200 pages then hem and haw around the shiny new 7th Son facility, the cloning tanks, the cloning technology, the mind transferring technology, several bigwig meetings, a bunch of asking the same questions over and over again, and other padding that made me want to scream when one of the bigwigs goes, “Oh, and we have to find your mother QUICKLY”. QUICKLY?!?! Yes, let’s brood for 200 pages and THEN get on to finding that mother of yours. I don’t care if the in-book time is a whopping one day, I, as a reader, am sick of reading about all this made-up science and canyon deep plot holes!! Let’s get to the thriller part already!
5. Unclear objective. At one point, the clones’ “father” reveals that the men were cloned to “make a team”, but that is one bullsh!t of an answer if I’ve ever heard of one. I almost prefer the “nature vs. nurture” idea, but, of course, that doesn’t have enough government conspiracy in it (and is REALLY a stupid use of bajillions of government money). WHY would being around 6 other copies of yourself mean that you are more efficient? Wouldn’t they also have your flaws? Wouldn’t they have developed their own differences that would make them potentially less able to work together? What if all the men had chosen different paths from their life plan? And if you are one of the clones and don’t KNOW the other 6 men until you are randomly thrown back together after, say, 16 years, how can you say you would IMMEDIATELY start working well with them, like our seven idiots do here? There are so many unspoken questions I have about this great “plan”.
6. The puzzles are either ludicrously simple or just plain ludicrous. The first “clue” is a Morse Code bit that translates into music which translates into other stuff. This takes our 7 clones a whopping 5 minutes to decipher. I guess NO OTHER SCIENTIST was a musician (because, you know, scientists are just geeky science nerds who have no other hobbies than their job) or knew Morse Code or was a psychiatrist or all the other things that were SUPPOSEDLY needed to solve this puzzle. Laughable. And then, when John Alpha leaves a second clue (this time five months prior), I have to go, “Huh?! What is THIS all about?!”
7. Out for REVENGE! Villains never have any real good reason to be villains anymore. They are always out for that simple “revenge”. And it’s no different here. John Alpha wants to kill because of revenge (and Nazis, because Nazis are so easy to identify as being BAD and make writing SO EASY and UNIMAGINATIVE). Every scene with him or Devlin is groan-worthy (and what is the POINT of including them, anyway???). I could have identified the “bad guys” in a blind line-up just by the way they talked and acted!
8. Almost exclusively written in John’s point of view. John had to be one of the most boring of the seven. Which must have been why EVERYTHING was written from his point of view (or if it wasn’t, the viewpoint character drooled all over his awesomeness). It particularly made the scenes were EVERYONE calls his sig-o awkward, as we hadn’t seen their point of view since they got captured 200 pages prior. And what the HELL was up with that scene, anyway? I don’t CARE what ALL seven clones are doing in the 15 minutes they are allotted to speak to their loved ones if the conversations are essentially THE EXACT SAME!!
9. Michael the Marine. So I don’t have a problem that he’s gay. I do have a problem that he so easy-going about revealing his orientation while being in the military. I don’t see how he would avoid getting bullied and teased if he were so carefree about his sexuality (it’s a sad world, I don’t like it, but it happens–I’ve gotten that impression from my father, who is retired Navy). Furthermore, I hated how Hutchins often would go something like “The conversation Michael and Gabe were having were just like the one Jack was having with his wife”. Oh, REALLY?! Why would it ever NOT be? Gabe and Michael are in a serious relationship; I would never have thought their conversation would be anything BUT intense, just LIKE Jack and his wife’s conversation. Thank you for needlessly clarifying this, Hutchins. Lastly, I hated how Michael and Gabe were the only couple “struggling” because of Michael’s absences (at one point, Gabe says one day he won’t be home waiting for Michael when Michael returns). Why is it that all the other clones’ women can provide unending encouragement and understanding, but the one gay couple can’t? I don’t think Michael’s character deserved to be treated like that.
10. Plot contrivances/holes/chasms. Just a sampling of what is jingling around in my brain: How did John Alpha leave the facility with cloning equipment? How is he able to download Devlin’s data from inside a high security prison? How can he download Devlin’s mind into so many people with practically NO ONE knowing? Why does no one mention the FOUR YEAR OLD CHILD he stole and KILLED more often? Why are NONE of the victims and their families mentioned? Why is Dania allowed to leave 7th Son with her knowledge? Why does no one suspect her? How does John Alpha know so much about the 7 clones? Why were 7 clones created? If the goal was to make efficient teams, why, when the experiment was proved a success, did they not try to form a team out of these men and test their teamwork abilities? Why are there no other teams of 7 in production? Where is the new technology that would have taken over the 3 football sized storage room? Why did the 7th Son team let John Alpha “help” in the cloning process? How did NO ONE see him becoming a psychopath? If he was raised perfectly, wouldn’t that have been “weeded out” already?I didn’t honestly want to give this one star nor did I set out to. I get no joy out of dissing on an author’s hard work. But I honestly haven’t read something so mind-bashingly awful since…well, probably Eldest (the sequel to Eragon). Only this book is better written. The characters are barely one dimensional, all interchangeable, the story is absurd, the villains are mind-numbing obvious. Although the book ends on a cliffhanger of sorts, I am most assuredly NOT going to find out how this series/trilogy ends. Not recommended.Dialogue/Sexual Situations/Violence: Many f-bombs, particularly by Dr. Mike. John is riding off after some Saturday sex with Sarah. Lots of violence from the prologue, including the death of the president at the hand of a four-year-old.
(Review submitted from a Shelf of Shame reader!)

The quick run down: professor Jessica Garrett and some colleagues are staying at a dude ranch and take a ride on an old stagecoach dressed in period piece. Whilst travelling through this mysterious canyon, they hit a bump in the road, Jessica’s knocked out and when she wakes up, she’s landed in the 1880’s. Their stagecoach is robbed by the notorious Reklaw gang and the boys decide to take Jessica home to Ma. Ma Reklaw rules the roost with her broom and fiery temper and insists the boys court Jessica like proper gentlemen and let the best man win. Oldest brother Cole (the strong MCP silent type), doesn’t fall all over her like the younger boys , but he’s hot for Jessica and she’s soon hot for him as well.

Jessica adapts to life in the 1880’s with relative ease (doesn’t seem to miss running water much at all), and starts teaching the Reklaw boys how to read and write, act like gentlemen and even encourages them to come to town and attend church and social functions so they can meet nice young ladies of their own. ‘Course, since they are notorious outlaws they have to take on assumed names but it doesn’t seem to occur to anyone to wonder about another family of five brothers…

Oh well. Jessica and Cole have lots of misunderstandings on the way to happiness, the brothers have sweethearts of their own, and there’s a big battle with the evil nasty mine owner. Sound silly? Well it is supposed to be a *funny* novel, but unfortunately the humor falls flat as a pancake. The younger Reklaw boys were ridiculous as all get out, their twanging accents got old very very fast, and Ma was more harridan than loveable curmudgeon.

Ma with her broom

My quibbles:  Jessica calmly tells anyone and everyone that she graduated from university in New Mexico and had tought college level in Greeley. Over and above the fact that none of the males batted an eye at that statement, is that the story takes place in the 1880’s (I think it was 1888, but I am not going back to read again to find out). I googled universities in New Mexico for that period. Found one – the University of New Mexico – and Wik says it was founded in 1889. You do the math, but even if they were accepting ladies back then she did her four years just a wee bit early. Googled universities in Greeley. Found one. Same problem – even if women were allowed to teach college level students back then, the school wasn’t founded until 1889.

Now I know it’s a romance and we can’t expect as much historically, but still! OK, maybe they didn’t have Wik back in the late 90’s when this was written so that’s an excuse. Neither here nor there, the writing is just awful with plentiful silly prose and eye rolling bad sex.

“your eyes…so damn beautiful and big.”…”I have big eyes for you.”
*Rolls eyes*
“His powerful body backlit by sparkling morning sunshine, he appeared the epitome of arrogant, cynical male.”
Oh, the scintillating prose. Not. Almost forgot to tell you about the sex by an anthill scene. See, Jessica unknowingly sits on an anthill and Cole has to rip her clothes off to save her. Perfect lead up to sex (natch), but they do it on the ground right by the anthill and does either of them say a word or get bit during the act? No, they do not.
“There was only one way to ensure her silence, her cooperation-and that was with his mouth on hers and him buried deep inside her.”
“I’m claiming that other pulse of yours, the one deep inside you.”
Gag me.
” Hot filaments of passion threaded their way deep inside her, tormenting her…It was going to happen she realized. They were going to have hot, uninhibited sex again and she was powerless to do anything about it.”
And let’s not worry, younger brother Billy and his darlin’ Dumpling (yes, that is her name) get their own hot love scene,
“Billy was beyond replying, totally focused on the exquisite womanflesh squeezing about him. Dumpling was tight, velvety, so hot. He eased back and forth, tasting her, teasing her, spreading her wetness. Her moans further stoked his passions, and even though she was slick now, her virgin flesh gripped him with a pressure and friction that almost shattered his control. He pulled back and penetrated deep, beginning to move in earnest.”
Words fail me. Then there’s the big love scene in the upscale hotel in the public bathroom down the hall that had me scratching my head for a moment,
“He caught her hand and pressed his fingers to his swollen manhood.”
Uh, his fingers? Kinda sounded like a one man party for a moment there 😉  By this time you won’t even care if Jessica gets back to the future or stays in the past to marry Cole, and you’ll be gagging over Jessica’s Susy Sunshine Pollyanna attitude. There is a sequel called Bushwhacked Groom, but I will be passing on that party. Anyone else game to read it and report back? I hear that Eugenia Riley was Fabio’s ghost writer, don’t miss Zosia’s hilarious reviews here and here.

And this folks, is one of them. I probably would have never spotted this one, but when I saw that Harriet gave it four, and the other two reviewers were wondering how in the hell it ever got published. Library had copies on order so I decided to see for myself and hopefully save the rest of the reading world. Here goes…

Matthew Colgate has gambled frittered away what money his father left him, and he’s in a pinch to get more and cooks up this brilliant stupid scheme to get the gentlemen placing bets on whether his termagant sister Madeline will wed within three days. Of course he sets up a ringer to wed her (with no dowry no one wants her), but there’s a hitch in the plan when Mathew’s arch-enemy Gabriel West pretends to be Madelene’s intended Mr. Brelford and spirits her away to his country manor. There’s a bit more to this pickle, including a mysterious dagger, the Italian count who wants it returned along with possession of Madelene’s virginal body, a kidnapping and an attempted murder or two.

Got that? ‘Cause I’m not sure I did. Now I really, really don’t mind a bit of silly fluff once in a while, but this is just beyond dire, and the plot has more holes than swiss cheese. How does one arrive at a long closed up manor and like magic there’s staff hired (who can be trusted implicitly with every secret), horses for the carriages, and more. Someone attempts to poison his wife and he sends a servant he’s known for a day up with a plate of  food? The characters are cookie cutter cut-outs with some terribly silly names that should draw a chuckle or two (loved the street urchin called Rascal) and that starts with the very first, our heroine’s last name of Colgate. Unfortunately, this came to mind and stuck permanently,

As for the prose? You just go ahead and decide for yourself

“”She tapped her foot, wishing she could at least recall a smattering of Italian when she studied at Filmore’s School for the Proper Raising of Today’s Young Ladies to Become Shining Examples of Womanhood. Nothing came to her.”

No, I am not kidding.

“Continuing his pleasure journey, his kissed his way down to her flat stomach …By the time his tongue had sliped into her wet folds, her body shook from surprise and intense pleasure. He took delight in caressing her with his tongue, with the knowledge that only he could give her the beauty of this moment.”

How sweet.

“”He jiggled his eyebrows lasciviously.”

*rolls eyes*

For those who don’t have enough sugar in their diet,

“To show his infinite love, for that is what he called it, he leaned over to kiss her gently. It was not one of passion, but rather a forever-kind of kiss, a promise they would keep to each other.”

And finally, the sex-in-a-tree-scene. Now I had heard about the sex with trees book  thanks to Katiebabs (*shudders*), but I didn’t quite know what to make of this one,

“His breath came in short bursts, moaning as he kissed her harshly, his tongue mating with hers, accepting no withdrawal, no defeat. With all of his might, he broke from her sweet lips to growl and spill into her hands…What had she done? And in a tree?”

Do yourself and your walls a favor and give this a miss. Wish I had.

So here it is. The worst book ever written.

It was truly just awful.

You know you’re in for a treat when the cover says…

The “Sexiest Man in the World”
Invites You to Join Him in His Romantic Fantasy

I guess it could be said this book is Fabio’s fantasy. A perfect woman spends half the time begging him for sex. Yep, man fantasy right there.

You have no idea how excited I was to finally get this book. Why? Because back in 1993 there was an excerpt of it in a women’s magazine, and I’m pretty sure that was my introduction to the romance genre. As all excerpts do, this one teased me with all the build-up and then left me hanging right before Fabio (er, Marco) was about to deflower innocent – TEENAGED – Christina.
So it’s been seventeen years – almost the heroine’s entire lifespan – but I’ve finally got the payoff.

Once you get past the wonderful cover, you get this:

Which folds out into this:

The word ‘cutlass’ appears about four times every page. I counted for a while because it was driving me crazy. I suppose it’s so we don’t forget that this isn’t Fabio we’re reading about. No, that man on the cover (and, presumably, the naked guy in the water on that poster) is actually Marco The Pirate. Don’t you forget it.
‘Manhood’ is used about as often – both the word and the act the manhood participates in. When it’s not a manhood, it’s a manroot. Or a mast. Or a sword. Or a turgid organ. While on the other hand we have the ‘sails’ of the heroine’s womanhood. Kudos to the author for keeping the nautical theme going.

Fabio/the actual author who is not Fabio is so fond of adjectives I wanted to cry. Or scream. Or do both.

The horrible mêlée seemed almost obscenely incongruous on such a mild September night, when the sea gleamed with tranquil splendour.

Well hell. Fabio’s English language skills are better than mine. That’s quite a sentence there, Bello Mio.

All of a sudden, Marco felt as if a rock had lodged in his throat – and a boulder in his trousers.

Marco the Italian pirate with the flowing blonde hair and the “hard thigh muscles” is doing whatever Italian pirates do when the evil, evil Spaniards start raping and pillaging in an English settlement in South Carolina. After gallantly rescuing a woman who’s being raped by one of those evil, evil Spaniards, Marco sees Christina. He’s twenty-two, she’s twelve. They stand there admiring each other’s beauty. Then he abducts her. And her nurse, so, you know, her abduction won’t be a lonely one. Then he turns the already dreadful child into a selfish, spoilt brat.

You will be happy to know that Marco – the eighteenth century pirate – not only preaches equality, but also practices safe sex (or ‘safe sporting’ as it would be called in this book). Fabio/Fabio’s ghost writer make sure we know Marco keeps condoms in his room – as I’m sure all pirates did on desert islands in the eighteenth century. “Hold up wench while I grab me a condom from the corner store. Arrr!”
To add to the questionable level of historical accuracy, we have Spanish and English wenches declaring things such as:

“…he cast me and the others from the island like so much trash.”
“Hey, take it easy!”

However I suppose Marco’s a good pirate. Everything he does is legal – ordered by the King of England. He’s doing his bit for the war effort. Heaven forbid Fabio was anything other than perfect.

Marco and his men always behaved fairly and humanely toward their captives. Whenever possible, Marco preferred accomplishing his goals without violence. (Where’s the fun in that?!)

Christina is a Mary Sue, naturally. Even at twelve years of age, every single man on the ship wants to marry her. Then Fabio takes her back to his home and his pet cheetah – who never before has liked ‘another female’ – loves Christina. Of course.
The first sixty pages are devoted to showing Marco and Christina – uh – falling in love. The problem is, she’s still twelve. I’m not sure it was necessary for the heroine of the book to stay a child for so long in the story. But while Marco is obsessed with this spoilt, ‘feisty’ child, we do get to read in a bit of detail about the sex he’s having with his wench/mistress/fellow sportsperson.

Fast forward six years.

…they both knew precisely what he wanted to give her. It wouldn’t be a spanking – but it would be very hard and so good.

Feisty Christina has the entire crew wanting to marry her (the paedophiles are into young women these days it seems), and she’s being the feisty thing we all know her to be and playing the men off each other. So Marbio needs to set her straight. With a kissing lesson. He dismisses their pet cheetah, Pansy (yes, Pansy), so they can go for it. Said lesson comes with a whole lot of…sexy…pre-kiss banter. Such as:

“My friend Isabel is seventeen, and already she has a mate and twin babies. Why, only yesterday I watched Paolo and Luisa suckle at their mother’s breasts.” She stared at him, a dreamy look coming over her. “I think I would like a baby, too.”

She was brazen!

“Because if you marry me,” she went on recklessly, “I want many babies.”

Oh, the little tease! Marco could not believe she was enticing him so relentlessly – any more than he could believe his manhood’s turgid rise towards the ripe bait she dangled.

Christina is so feisty (and desperate for ‘many babies’) in fact, that she does very mature and kind things to get rid of Marbio’s mistresses – like put a snake in the bed, pour a bucket of water on them, light a fire, let Pansy into the room.

…tightly pinned against his hungry, thrusting loins, (It’s the ‘hungry’ that frightens me. What does that thing do? Eat?)

Both Christina and Marbio become so frustrated they ask the cheetah for relationship advice.

He felt the nipple of her breast spring to life… (What, as opposed to ‘the nipple of her hand’?!)

Marbio decides he needs to marry Christina off, while the baddies are congregating to kidnap Christina and get some money.
On a side note, I couldn’t understand why everybody was snapping their fingers all the time. Obviously it’s a habit Fabio/ghost writer has, but that doesn’t mean everybody in the world does it.

Hijinks ensue – of the kind that make you want to murder both of them and move onto the next book.

But they make it to bed eventually, with riveting conversation such as:

“I don’t think I mind -”
“Mind what?”
“That you are huge. In fact, I think I shall get used to it.”

Yeah, there’s some more of Fabio’s fantasy for you.

But it’s still not enough for Marbio to marry her, and when the brilliant, genius of a heroine is abducted, instead of fighting the bad guy off she decides to allow herself to be abducted so that Marbio can feel good rescuing her.

“The night is young,” Carlos replied. “I prefer to fill my gut before I plug a squirming wench’s belly with my manroot.”

It turned out Marbio was kind of a dickhead. Christina is captured and kept prisoner and abused for weeks, and when he finally turns up he acts all pissy because she isn’t grateful enough about – oh all kinds of things. He decides that she needs to love him more, and come begging to him (which is precisely what she’s been doing for the entire book!) and until then he’ll ‘bed’ her but not love her. Yep, this pirate’s a stellar hero who will make you swoon.

Christina has a few dozen more TSTL moments; Marbio experiments with a bit of light bondage (it involved bound hands and a hammock. “Now swing, cara.” “Swing? Which way?” “Every way.”); all the women end up pregnant to the wrong men; and then the story’s over.

The epilogue very kindly shows us a confused Marbio ‘cutely’ not knowing how to deal with his baby daughter. But he’ll have to figure it out fast because Christina is already pregnant with the next one. At the rate they’re going they’ll probably be able to fit in – oh – about twenty-six kiddies before menopause. How romantic.

The only positive I have to say about this book is that I’ve finally fulfilled a lifelong dream by reading it. I’m not sure it was worth the wait.

So, this wasn’t exactly a review. But you get the picture.

*This review (or not exactly a review, depending on your point of view) is courtesy of Zosia and was reprinted here with permission.  Thanks Zosia!!

Nauti Boy

I know I shouldn’t review Lora Leigh books. It’s just that when I heard the heroes of this series were a bunch of redneck relatives who participated in family spankathons…well…the book just had to be read. In Wild Card Lora Leigh taught me the only way two married souls can truly be connected is to have buttsecks. In Nauti Boy, she taught me the way to cure the trauma of sexual assault is to lose your virginity to your stepbrother and his two buttsecks-obsessed cousins in a gangbang with a stalker looking on. Of course, these heroic men will come with perfectly normal names. Such as Rowdy, Dawg and Natches.

Oh yeah baby.

Lora Leigh has a terrible effect on me. When I read her books I turn into that fifth grader who thought it was hilarious to see drawings of ‘boy bits’ on the bathroom walls. It’s embarrassing, the way her writing makes me do these things. I’m no prude, really I’m not. But when I read Lora Leigh, I’m ten.

Rowdy wants Kelly, but she’s a little young.
So what’s a man to do when he wants to sexify his underage stepsister?
Rowdy chooses to be patient, and goes off to be a superhero in the Marines until he won’t be arrested for doing the girl in the forbidden regions. They could have moved overseas – the age of consent in Australia is sixteen, and if they wanted to stay closer to home, they could have tried Canada.

Rowdy has a reputation for naughty sexcapades with his cousins. I can’t get past their names. ‘Natches’ makes me itchy, and I’m sorry, but ‘Dawg’ is something with four legs and a tail. Is Lora Leigh joking, or does she really think men with names like that will turn us on?

Dawg, Natches and Rowdy Mackay. They were the bad boys of the county. The three of them had been the terror of Somerset Kentucky when they were young. Fathers locked their daughters up at night in fear of the three of them. They hadn’t exactly gained a good reputation where their women were concerned.

It’s quite a community these characters live in. I thought it was a bit strange that the first conversation we see Rowdy have with his father is about all the girls he’s spanked with his cousins in the past.

“Rowdy, I know you don’t understand—”
“Sure I do, Dad.” He turned back to his father then, a tight, cold smile on his lips. “I spanked Calista a little bit, screwed her ass and did it in front of witnesses.” He watched as Ray Mackay’s face nearly turned purple. “And to add to that distasteful little venture, me, Natches and Dawg shared her for a while. I understand completely.” He was aware of Maria standing outside the door; he prayed Kelly was out of earshot.

But I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when we got our first visit into Rowdy’s father’s head to learn the father’s first sexual experience with his wife was when her first husband shared her in a threesome. How utterly romantic.

Not since he started dating Maria, and realised what love really was. He had known her forever. She and her husband had been regulars at the marina, their boat docked close to the office. Hell, during their younger days, when pleasure had been all that mattered, he and James, Maria’s husband, had shared Maria at one time.

Rowdy finally returns to ‘claim’ Kelly when he’s thirty and she’s twenty-four (and there’s some bizarre talk about how Kelly’s too young; last I checked, twenty-four year olds were out of school and quite legal).
But when he returns he discovers Kelly has been attacked by a stalker, and is all jumpy. The stalker tied her to the bed, cut her, and tried to rape her up the bum.
In Lora Leigh’s land, everybody loves buttsecks so much it’s even the rapists’ preferred technique.
Well darn, he thinks. He’d been planning on sharing her with his cousins on his boat, the ‘Nauti Buoy’. But no matter, after less than twenty-four hours at home he’s sharing her bed, and coming out with such reassuring things as:

“Easy, baby.” His voice was drowsy, calm. “It’s just a hard-on.”

What’s the best way to ‘cure’ a woman of her near-rape trauma?
That’s it Rowdy. You’re home for a couple of days, so it’s time to bring in a couple of cousins and you can sex her up real good. She’ll love the backdoor action once a few friends have done their thing with her. Especially as she’s a virgin. How sensitive and considerate of you.
In short, the stalker is caught, and they live happily ever after. Kelly becomes a sex-crazed ‘kitten’ (I’ve noticed Lora Leigh is always telling us the women are like ‘kittens’), and a bunch of people who have nothing to do with the story but who participate in a lot of group sex turn up in the epilogue for no apparent reason.

She was a little sex kitten waiting to purr, and they were ready to stroke her.

The end.

Now I’m a little confused. The ‘Nauti’ is just juvenile spelling – like that book I read recently where one of the characters was called ‘Summa’. It’s the ‘Buoy’ I don’t get. You see, I was under the impression Americans pronounced the word as ‘boo-ee’. To me, the play on words makes perfect sense because we pronounce ‘boy’ and ‘buoy’ the same way. But how does an American author make that play on words when she doesn’t pronounce them the same?
However, that’s probably a pretty stupid question, considering I’m talking about a book with a hero named Rowdy and a bunch of people who think rape trauma is cured by an incestuous foursome.

As with every other piece of Lora Leigh writing I’ve ever read, the characters are constantly flying off the handle for no apparent reason. One minute they’re having a normal conversation; the next they’re screaming at each other. I guess Leigh’s trying to show passion and emotion or something, but nothing happens to justify the outbursts.

The book finishes with an epilogue that advertises another one of the author’s series. One moment we’re with the characters we know, and the next six new people – the heroes and heroines of the other series – are there, doing some promotion while pretending to matter to the story. Then – in a double-promotion whammy – we cut to epilogue number two and Dawg promoting his book, standing there naked while he orders the woman he ‘loves’ to do the business on him.
Lora Leigh’s nothing is not shameless in trying to force us to buy more books.

*This review is courtesy of Zosia and has been reprinted here with permission.  Thanks Zosia!

In this edition of Fabio’s personal ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ series, he’s a Venetian knight. He’s also been a ‘Pirate’, a ‘Viking’, and…’Dangerous’. As Niccolo the Knight, he goes to a magical kingdom to rescue the feisty Princess Aurora and claim his rewards of marrying her and getting her babies and her fortune.

Yeah, doesn’t sound so romantic to me either.

In what is beginning to appear to me as a pattern for these books, this one also has a scene where Fabio worries his penis is just too big for the poor heroine. This, of course, gives the heroine the opportunity to congratulate and compliment him on the turgid organ behind the codpiece in his leather trousers.

“I am hurting you,” he said contritely…
…”Your barb is sweet, milord. And wondrous large.”

Right from the outset I had a problem. This is the real Princess Aurora:

She stars in The Sleeping Beauty and dances the Rose Adage.

She DOESN’T frolic in the forest while complimenting Fabio on his ginormous barb. I don’t like having my fairytales ruined.

I never in a million years would have expected to read this book and get a fairytale of the magic and unicorn variety. And who would have thought a man’s mediaeval knight fantasy would be so boring? So filled with magic? Would actually have a princess who frolicked with a pet fawn and picnicked with gnomes?

Aurora smiled at the little man, with his wrinkled, pointy face, beady dark eyes, balding pate, and full beard. “Good morrow, Francis.” She nodded in turn to each of the others. “And Farley, Findley, Finn, Fiske, and Frey.”

Where’s the fighting and the sex?! I certainly wasn’t in it for the Snow White factor.

This one took me forever to read. It seems Fabio and his ghostwriter Eugenia Riley forgot Fabio’s actually not a serious model or writer. These books don’t work when you’re trying to take them seriously. Until the feisty wench of the mystical land of Falconia appeared on the page a few chapters in, the whole thing was a little too, well, normal and boring for my expectations.

But then they arrived in Falconia (which for some reason had me thinking about She-Ra, but I think she lives in ‘Eternia’), and the castle is under siege; they can hear the battering ram knocking the gates down. But for some reason everyone’s ignoring the attack, instead participating in a festival to worship turtles.

“Why, ‘tis a holy celebration, milord – the Sacred Day of the Turtle.”

Don’t worry, it’s not only this town that’s crazy. Their neighbours celebrate ‘The Holy Day of the Cricket’.

That’s what tipped me off to the fact I’d stumbled into The Hobbit rather than Braveheart.

Niccolo clucked to Nero and manoeuvred the charger through the trees. “This is an enchanted place indeed. Blessedly, the gnomes appear to be heading away from us, toward the mountains. They will not molest us.”

Once they’ve encountered turtles and gnomes and peasants wearing their clothes inside-out (I’m still not sure why that happened), they arrive at the princess’ home – the invaders have gone home for the evening, having a break from sacking the castle (seriously, they went home for the day) – to discover there’re actually half a dozen men who’ve come to the castle to rescue the princess and get her babies. He’s going to have to compete for her!

So this was his bride…He did feel relieved to discover that Aurora was neither ugly nor repulsive,

But boy is she feisty.

Princess or not, she was one fresh wench. She deserved to have her saucy mouth scrubbed with lye soap – and her backside thrashed!

But poor Faccolo doesn’t know yet that Princess Aurora has an ulterior motive. She’s cursed! And she wants a sexy man with a big dong her ‘one true love’ to free her of it. She takes the time to notice he is “a giant of a man” with “well-shaped knees”.

In amongst all of the brazens, verilys and half a dozen mayhaps a page, there’s a plot that adds nothing to the story. When it comes down to it, nobody picks up this book for the world-building or the historical experience.
Faccolo spends the entire book wanting to hurt Princess Aurora badly, because like all good old-style romance heroes, he’s been wronged by a woman in the past, and so KNOWS this woman is evil too. For her part, the princess knows she’ll die within a year if she marries the wrong man (it’s that bloody family curse that kills off the women), but she really, really wants to sexify Fabio (don’t we all?) so she decides to marry him anyway.

Beware the barbs… She froze in alarm. Was it the voice of the spirits? Or merely the wind?
When the ominous voice repeated, Beware the barbs, Aurora’s doubts surged into panic. Verily, she could feel Niccolo’s barb against her now – part of her ached to be pierced by it, yet it might well bring her to ruin!

I repeat:

Mayhap he could punish her that way…punish her by making love to her until she could not move,

…the cheeks so flushed with desire, the lips lush and bright, slightly parted…as another part of her would soon become, to receive his deeply thrusting organ.

Too late, our hero realises he’s been a bastard, and he has to go and rescue the heroine from the evil King Basil across the way.

Fabio takes all the men and supernatural creatures with him. Just in time, he gets over his misogynistic grudge and rediscovers God.

Niccolo nodded. “Then let us go fight, men…and gnomes.” He paused thoughtfully. “But first, let us all pray.”

Everything is resolved, and the princess spawns her heir, thus outliving the nasty curse. The epilogue features breastfeeding from start to finish, while the happy King Niccolo and Queen Aurora discuss their next baby and Fabio repays the favour of the manroot compliment by congratulating Aurora on her breastfeeding technique. What a perfect way to finish a fantastic story.

*Review courtesy of Zosia and reprinted here with permission!  Thanks Zosia!

Heavens, where do I begin? I have read several of DBF’s books in the past and loved them all, Plantation being my favorite. They are always filled with love, laughter, heartbreak, quirky characters and lots of southern food. This one, however is an unmitigated disaster of the first degree and leaves me wondering if the author phoned this one in.


Basic plot run down – Beth Hayes has just finished college and she’s roped into minding the family home on Sullivan’s Island as her mother’s taking a year to work in Paris, and the aunt is moving to California. Beth is none too pleased to be stuck in the back of nowhere, but she eventually bucks up and makes the most of it, especially when she meets the older and oh-so-handsome developer Max Mitchell and she’s madly in love Just Like That. Or will quiet investment banker Woody be the man to make her dreams come true?

Actually, there’s a bit more to it than that, but you will figure it all out just fine by yourself. You’ll know who’s the cad and what he’s up to lickety split (so why Beth didn’t notice…). You’ll know who Mr. Right is from the get-go, although you will be scratching your head wondering why such a smart man doesn’t spot a scam when it’s staring him in the face. And yes, despite the incredibly stupid pickle Beth gets herself into you’ll see that Perfectly Pat Bacon Saving ending coming a mile away. No need to worry about our oh-so immature and whiny heroine (really, she acts and talks like a fifteen year old) getting her just desserts and learning a valuable lesson in life. No indeedy.

As for the author’s attempts at humor? Everyone of them falls flat as a pancake, and most especially the big ending to the big date wherein our intrepid heroine proceeds to barf (yes, I said barf) all over her man’s shirt before the big kiss. Eewww. With such a unlikeable TSTL heroine, insipid dialogue, shallow characters as well as none of the quirky humor that DBF is known for, I really can’t recommend this for even her die-hard fans. Give it a miss, and this is where my copy’s going next,


I know that Mr. FTC man is going to be terribly worried over my book source – Amazon Vine.

September 1151. The Loire Valley. The future Henry II and his father, Geoffrey of Anjou, are heading back north after a visit to the French court and decide to strip off for a swim on the way.
Laughing, they splashed each other vigorously, then wrestled in the rippling water.
Reading this, I wasn’t comfortable with where the scene was going.
Henry was surprised to find his father’s muscles iron-hard – not bad for an old man of thirty-eight, he thought. He had glimpsed too Geoffrey’s impressive manhood.
Now I really don’t like where this is going. Glance nervously at the next page to read:
Their horseplay abandoned

What made me suspect that an innocent swim might turn into something a little less innocent?

The previous 21 pages.

The Captive Queen begins in August 1151 in Paris as Eleanor and Louis are preparing to receive Geoffrey of Anjou. Something I remembered from When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman. The book opens with Eleanor’s POV in a very sub-Jean Plaidy style:

Thus ran the Queen’s tumultuous thoughts as she sat with the King on their high thrones, waiting for Geoffrey and his son Henry to arrive, so that Louis could exchange with them the kiss of peace and receive Henry’s formal homage. The war was thus to be neatly concluded – except that there could be no neat conclusion to Eleanor’s inner turmoil.
which makes it all the more surprising when the next sentence is:
For this was to be the first time she had set eyes on Geoffrey since that blissful, sinful autumn in Poitou, five years before.
Definitely don’t remember this from Sharon Kay Penman.
It had not been love, and it had not lasted. But she had never been able to erase from her mind the erotic memory of herself and Geoffrey coupling gloriously between silken sheets, the candlelight a golden glow on their entwined bodies. Their coming together had been a revelation after the fumbling embarrassment of the marriage bed and the crude awakening afforded her by Marcabru;
Hold that thought. More about Marcabru coming up (so to speak) very soon.
she had never dreamed that a man could give her such prolonged pleasure. It had surged again and again until she had cried out with the joy of it, and it had made her aware, as never before, of what was lacking in her union with Louis.
Right, so now she’s going to see Geoffrey again and she’s scared she’ll give herself away. But ONE PAGE LATER she loses interest in Geoffrey entirely when:
Eleanor took one look at Henry – and saw Geoffrey no more…Lust knifed through her. She could barely control herself. Never had she reacted so violently to any man.
After Bernard of Clairvaux has interrupted to tell Eleanor the legend of Melusine, which she would already know and he would know she knew, Eleanor and Henry get talking and don’t beat around the bush. So to speak.
‘Madame the Queen, I see that the many reports of your beauty do not lie,’ Henry addressed her, sketching a quick bow. Eleanor felt the lust rising again in her. God, he was beddable! What wouldn’t she give for one night between the sheets with him!
Fortunately Henry feels the same:
‘You need a real man in your bed,’ Henry told her bluntly, his eyes never leaving hers, his lips curling in a suggestive smile.
Henry knows better than to expect a slap in the face – after all, he’s heard all about Eleanor:
‘I have heard one or two things that made me sit up and take notice,’ he grinned. ‘Or stand up and take notice, if you want the bare truth! But I have been no angel myself. We are two of a kind, my queen.’
Later that night, Eleanor gazes at her naked self imagining Henry’s reaction once he cops an eyeful:
The very thought of that steely, knowing gaze upon her nudity made her melt with need, and her fingers crept greedily down to that secret place between her legs, the place that people like Bernard regarded as forbidden to the devout: the place where, five years before, she had learned to feel rushes and crescendos of unutterable pleasure
(Only it was utterable, because we’ve already been told she ‘cried out with the joy of it.’) Anyway. Remember Marcabru?
It was Marcabru the troubadour who had shown her how, the incomparable Marcabru, whom she herself had invited from her native Aquitaine to the court of Paris – where his talents, such as they were, had not been appreciated.
This seems rather surprising when we learn that he has
done what Louis never had to bring her to a climax, one glorious July day in a secluded arbour in the palace gardens.
With Marcabru banished and her interlude with Geoffrey over, Eleanor was flung back on her own resources:
Since then, she had learned to pleasure herself, and she did so now, hungrily, her body alive in anticipation of the joys she would share with Henry of Anjou when they could be together. And, gasping as the shudders of her release convulsed her, she promised herself that it would be soon.

All this by page 14.

In other words, so far this book read almost exactly like an erotic novel. Not as good as say, Portia da Costa, but a fair enough effort at a Plantagenet sex romp. The trouble is, I wasn’t expecting to read a Plantagenet sex romp. I was expecting to read a serious novel about Eleanor of Aquitaine.

The not-particularly-well-written sex was only part of the problem. Eleanor was portrayed as someone who thought with her panties, who only considered Henry as a potential husband after jumping into bed with him. She had the sexual appetite of Judith Krantz’s Billy Ikehorn, but not the ambition. At this point, I really didn’t feel as if I wanted to spend over 450 pages with her. If this was my idea of Eleanor, I’d read Alan Savage.

I decided to look at one of the non-sex scenes (when I could find one) and see what I thought of that before giving up and returning the book to the library. I flipped 15 years ahead to 1166. Eleanor is heavily pregnant with her last child, John, and heading for Oxford when she is diverted to Woodstock by bad weather:

It was cold in the wilds of Oxfordshire, and there was a promise of snow in the leaden air. The sky was lowering, the skeletal trees bending before the icy wind.
So far so good.
Eleanor sat huddled in her litter, her swollen body swathed in furs, aware that she should find some place of shelter soon, for it could not be long now before this babe was ready to greet the world.
I thought this made her sound like a cat who’s planning to give birth in someone’s sock drawer.

At Woodstock, Eleanor notices a new tower has been built…and there’s a light at the top of it.  At the top of the tower she finds:

a pretty domestic scene. The room was warm, heated by the coals in a glowing brazier. An exquisitely beautiful young girl was sitting before a basin of chased silver, humming as she washed herself with a fine holland cloth, by the dancing light of many wax candles. She wore only a white chemise, draped around her waist, exposing her upper body. In the instant before the startled nymph gasped and covered herself, Eleanor’s shrewd eyes took in the small, pink-tipped breasts, the long, straw-coloured tresses, the firm, slender arms and the damp, rose-petal skin.
In this book, I’m not comfortable with Eleanor noticing anybody’s nipples.
This is, of course, Henry’s mistress Rosamund de Clifford. Eleanor has no idea who Rosamund is. Rosamund has no idea who she is. After a round of introductions, Eleanor gets to the point:
‘I will not beat about the bush,’ the Queen said. ‘Tell me the truth. Are you his mistress?’
As Rosamund stutters and begs for mercy, Eleanor feels ‘sick to her stomach’, ‘betrayed.’ She asks if Rosamund realises that she, Eleanor, is pregnant with Henry’s child.

I can see that given the way Eleanor is portrayed in this book, she might feel the paternity of her child requires some clarification. Anyway. While Rosamund weeps, Eleanor threatens her:

‘Do you know what I could do to you?’ Her eyes narrowed as she moved – menacingly, she hoped – closer towards the snivelling creature kneeling before her. She was filled with hatred. She wanted this girl to suffer, as she herself was suffering. ‘I could have you whipped! If I had a mind to, I could call for a dagger and stab you, or have your food poisoned. Yes, Rosamund de Clifford, it would give me great pleasure to think of you, every time they bring you those choice dainties that my husband has no doubt ordered for you, wondering if your next mouthful might be your last!’
Rosamund decides to stand up for herself.
‘My Lady will know that one does not refuse the King,’ Rosamund said in a low, shaking voice. ‘But…’ and now Eleanor could detect a faint note of defiance – ‘I did love him, and what I gave I gave willingly.’
Her words were like knives twisting in the older woman’s heart.
After Rosamund goes on to tell Eleanor that Henry stayed at Woodstock with her ‘all last autumn, winter and spring’, built her the tower and the labyrinth and commanded her to wait there for his return, Eleanor is devastated:
Like an animal with a mortal hurt, she wanted to retreat to a dark place and die…
‘Never let me set eyes on you again!’ she hissed at Rosamund, then turned her back on the girl, glided from the room with as much dignity as she could muster
and announces to her entourage that the place is:
‘…wholly unfit for habitation. Like it or not, we must make for Oxford.’ She knew had to get away from Woodstock as quickly as possible. She could not endure to share a roof with Rosamund de Clifford, or even breathe the same air. She must go somewhere she could lick her wounds in peace.
Fast forward to Oxford where, after her encounter with Rosamund, Eleanor has ‘no heart for this labour’ and ‘turned her face away’ when the child is born. However, she pulls herself together sufficiently to decide on a name for the baby:
‘…I mind me that the Feast of St John the Apostle and St John the Evangelist is in three days’ time. I shall call him John.’
Now we get some heavy foreshadowing as Eleanor’s sister Petronilla thinks that:
what should have been a happy occasion was, for some reason beyond her comprehension, a very sad one.
And sure enough, two years later:
Try as she might, Eleanor still could not bring herself to love him, this child conceived in sorrow and born in betrayal. His existence conjured up too many memories of that terrible Christmas-tide, when she had gone to Woodstock and come face-to-face with catastrophe and ruin, and then endured that bloody, agonising travail at Oxford. No, John was the fruit of a marriage in its death throes, and sometimes she could not bear to look upon him. His nurses had the care of him.

Which is obviously why he turned out as badly as he did. The implication is that if Eleanor hadn’t stopped at Woodstock on that snowy night, Magna Carta might never have happened

Andrew C. Wheeler, ‘The Birth and Childhood of King John: Some Revisions’ (from Eleanor of Aquitaine: Lord and Lady, ed. Bonnie Wheeler and John Carmi Parsons, 2002**), discussing the placement of Henry and Eleanor’s young children at the abbey of Fontevrault, makes several points. Firstly, ‘there seems no reason to doubt that it was Henry’ who made the decision to send the children to Fontevrault. Secondly, ‘Nothing suggests that [Eleanor’s daughter, also called Eleanor] ever lived at Fontevraud.’ Thirdly, sending John and his sister Joan there would make them more accessible to their parents, not less: ‘the central location of Fontevraud would make it accessible to both Henry and Eleanor, he from Normandy or Anjou, she from Poitou, for such parental functions as they chose to fulfil.’

Weir, however, has Eleanor racked with guilt at her decision to consign her children (including Eleanor) to Fontevrault, despite the fact that John and his sister Joan are so young at this point (1168) they couldn’t possibly travel with the court anyway. Weir’s biography of Eleanor came out before Eleanor of Aquitaine: Lord and Lady was published, so she couldn’t have taken it into consideration when writing her biography, but, considering the lack of evidence about Eleanor, wouldn’t it have made sense to catch up on recent research before writing her novel? Instead, Weir has chosen to fill the gaps with all the old cliches about Eleanor, many of them based on either medieval misogyny or Victorian ideals of womanhood. Her admirers will perhaps argue that this makes for better fiction. In this case, I found that it didn’t.
I borrowed this book from the library.

There’s a good reason this one is out of print….

“She knew, as he loved her, as he took her to the heights of passion – of pleasure – that she belonged to him, her lord and master, her highwayman, her nightrider, forever…” Oh dear, with such insightful (not) prose what is there left to say? Run for the hills perhaps?

Upon the death of her father the Earl of Barthorp, Lady Bliss Paynter is a ward of the court until Charles II sells her guardianship off to the odious Sir Basil Holme. Enter stage left Kit (Christopher) who becomes Baron de Wilde upon the death of his father. Kit’s family had supported Cromwell during the Civil Wars and lost their lands when Charles was restored to the throne – lands that were given to Bliss’s father. Kit vows to not let the villagers loyal to the de Wilde family and Chatham castle starve and he takes to the highway to rob from the rich and give to the poor. When Kit sets upon the carriage carrying the beauteous Bliss on the way to Chatham castle he steals a kiss and her heart as well…

Bliss’s guardian soon decides to wed her off to the fortune hunting Stephen Villiers, a distant cousin of George Villiers, The Duke of Buckingham. At this point the story becomes Terribly Tangled with Mistaken Identities, the Big Misunderstanding, and other silly plot twists that I have no desire to revisit again. I wish nothing more than to forget them and move on to better books.

I’m not one to let a cheesy cover scare me away from a book as I’ve found some really great treasures behind them but trust me – this book is not one of them. If you enjoy a book with a wimpy hero who does nothing but snarl and growl and furrow his eyebrows, a TSTL heroine who can’t seem to find any other fabric to wear besides velvet along with cardboard cut-out black and white baddies this might suit but otherwise I’d give it a miss. Oh, and if you’re thinking you don’t care because you’re just looking for a wall-paper historical with lots of sex like the cover suggests? Guess what – you’ll not find much of that either – what little sex there is in this book is very very tame. Skip this.