Monday, March 12, 2012

Review: A Touch of Scarlet

A Touch of Scarlet
A Touch of Scarlet by Liz Talley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Charming romance between a sexy starlet and a police chief who only seems uptight. There were a few minor plot issues I had--the stuff about the ex-boyfriend at the end was kind of out of the blue--but Talley's writing is just so enjoyable I didn't care. And although I'm not too crazy about series that go on and on, I am always pleased to visit Oak Stand, Texas, and see what Bubba Malone, the reforming gangsters, and the old ladies are up to. There was not a boring moment in this entire book, and after what I've read recently, that's saying something.

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Review: Unraveled

Unraveled by Courtney Milan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Miranda Darling is a seamstress/wigmaker with a past in a traveling theatre troupe. For protection on the mean streets of Bristol, she gets involved with a shady, underworld character whose machinations bring her into contact with Magistrate Smite Turner--more than once. But Turner can see through her disguises, and wants to more than just see the woman underneath them. It seems like faint praise to say that this was a satisfying conclusion to the Turner series--although it was--because this book was so incredibly good. Well-developed characters, twisty plot, nice steam level--you couldn't ask for more in a historical romance. What's more, Milan self-pubbed this, keeping the price down and making it lendable. You should read it today!

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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Review: Borrowed Light

Borrowed Light
Borrowed Light by Carla Kelly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've always liked Kelly's regencies, so when I heard she had written an inspirational romance, I was naturally curious as how that would work. Now, I'm not Mormon, so the Mormon-y bits of this book were a bit over my head, but the underlying spiritual development of the characters in the book is probably common in any religion.

This is the story of Julia Darling of Salt Lake City, graduate of the Fannie Farmer cooking school of Boston, who dumps her calculating fiance and goes to Wyoming to be a cook on a ranch. Her new employer, Paul Otto, has a somewhat mysterious past, and Julia is the only ranch employee who doesn't seem to be an outcast or misfit of some sort. As her contracted year of employment goes on, Julia will experience the dangers of frontier life: the cold, the isolation, the lack of respect for fancy cooking, the brutal range wars between the ranchers and homesteaders, and the prejudices local people have against Mormons. But she will also experience unexpected friendship and love.

This book was very good. There was a theme of children left alone to wander in the wilderness that probably came either from the Bible or the Book of Mormon. There is also crypto-Mormonism in this book, which is kind of weirdly neat. Kelly has always been meticulous in her research, and I discovered some lesser-known things about the settlement of the West. I'm not sure all Kelly's fans are going to be willing to follow her into inspirational territory, but since this book was well-written, non-preachy, and had compelling characters and an interesting storyline, I suspect she'll be picking up quite a few new ones.

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Review: The Virtuoso

The Virtuoso
The Virtuoso by Grace Burrowes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The son of a Duke, a musical virtuoso, develops an inflammation of the hands, and the only possible cure is to rest them. So he buys a country estate, and starts fixing it up...only to be enchanted by a neighboring widow with a secret of her own. Great plot, great character development, great narrative voice...and, as the Dear Author review points out, tons of historical inaccuracies. Yet Burrowes's writing is good enough that I KNOW I'm hanging disbelief by the neck until it is nearly dead, but I just don't care. A wallpapery yet otherwise good historical romance to be enjoyed for what it is.

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Review: Where the Allegheny Meets the Monongahela

Where the Allegheny Meets the Monongahela
Where the Allegheny Meets the Monongahela by Felicia Watson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't usually re-read a book three times in a row, but I did this one, because I could not get it out of my head--and that's a good thing.

Logan Crane is a man in crisis. He's a mechanic, but working a job he dislikes, he's under a lot of social and financial pressures, and, inarticulate at best, he's unable to express his true feelings even to himself. And one night, after a day full of frustration, he erupts in rage at his wife--she ends up in the hospital, he ends up in court. Nick Zales is a domestic abuse counselor. Openly gay, he's comfortable with himself and his sexuality. However, he is still dealing with what it means to be a child of abuse, every day, as he cares for his brain-injured mother.

Logan's court-assigned counselor lands him with a volunteer gig teaching auto maintenance and repair under a life skills program that Nick runs, and soon the men are working at restoring a classic car together. While the class makes Logan aware of the seriousness of his offense (and the importance of not repeating it), his time with Nick also threatens the protective shell he's built around his emotions and his sexuality.

I've spent some time with blue-collar Pennsylvanians, and a little time in Pittsburgh, and I think Watson really naileds the ethos and spirit of the city and people. After reading a lot of books where the setting might as well be BlandTown, USA, it was great to read a book that brings the setting--Pittsburgh--to life: the hilly streets, the working-class neighborhoods, and of course the rivers in the title.

Even the secondary characters in this book are fully fleshed out and come to life--Logan's wife, bitter but ready to move on; Trudy, Logan's counselor who is wise in some ways but misses other important things; and Sister Ciera, the nun who hopes against reason for rehabilitation of violent abusers--and finds her habit useful in bars.

This book also focuses a bit on an existing debate about domestic violence--what it's like, what kind of people perpetuate it, and why it's perpetuated. Logan is atypical of the kind of abuser that his counselor usually sees--he's only ever once been violent with his wife, and, in fact, all his violence (domestic and elsewhere) comes from the same source. In the course of the novel--through his therapy and his relationships with Nick and the women in the car repair class--he must learn to deal with this source so he can be free to love in happiness.

One of my top reads of the year.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Review: The Soldier

The Soldier (Duke's Obsession, #2)The Soldier by Grace Burrowes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The soldier, our hero, is the illegitimate son of a duke; he's been ennobled for his deeds and with his new title comes the grant of a deceased earl's estate. It also comes with the earl's illegitimate daughter--and her cousin, who is mighty attractive and is also a skilled baker. But the soldier suffers from what we would now call PTSD after the wars--and the attractive cousin is keeping an important secret. Excellent, slightly angsty read with a good level of heat. The only issue I had with it was that the heroine's secret was really easy to guess. But Burrowes writes characters I always want to read more about at a good level of depth. Recommended.

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Review: Just Like Heaven

Just Like Heaven (Smythe-Smith, #1)Just Like Heaven by Julia Quinn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another of Quinn's charming romances, this one a first in her series about the Smythe-Smiths--nice girls, wretched musicians. Light and light-hearted, except for the hero's bout with a nearly fatal wound infection acquired in a rather silly way. This romance is so sweet the sex scene near the end seems forced. Perfect for a pick-me-up on a summer afternoon; those seeking angst and drama should go elsewhere.

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