Have you considered SlimDX and C#, lightbulb ?
Like you I find graphics programming far more interesting, at least right now, than game development. I moved from a middleware engine, which I used with Delphi and C++, to D3D/C++ a while ago and got far enough in to it to know that my limited skills in C++ were hindering my progress. So I recently moved to C# and SlimDX and have become more productive. It's still D3D so the tutorials, samples and books are still relevant. But it removes the unwieldy C++ complexity. Doing so might help you ease things a bit and gain a better grasp -- at which point you could always switch back to C++ if one of your goals is to do so.