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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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Review: Unlocked

Unlocked (Turner, #1.5)Unlocked by Courtney Milan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Yeah I was always the crazy one; broke into the stadium
And I wrote your number on the fifty yard line
You were always the perfect one and a valedictorian
So under your number I wrote call for a good time
Now only wanted is to get your attention
But you overlooked me somehow

--Toby Keith, "How Do You Like Me Now?"

Self-published novella, a tie-in to her series starting with Unveiled.

This book is an early Victorian version of the story about a boy who falls for a girl in when they are both young and just has no idea what to do about these feelings so he mocks her and makes her life a misery. When he finally grows up and starts thinking with the head that is actually on his shoulders, he realizes he is a douchebag and runs off to climb a bunch of mountains and become a better person. Now he's back. Is there a chance he can ever earn her trust? And can she ever overcome her insecurities--the ones fed by his earlier mockery--to publicly act like the woman she really is?

Milan is good novelist but she is a great novella writer. Every word in this story counts, and it all goes into creating something really, really enjoyable: a timeless plot, likable characters working out real dilemmas, and various other literary clevernesses. And bonus! This excellent novella is only 99 cents in ebook format. I've paid ten times that much for a book ten times as bad.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Review: Captured by the Highlander

Captured by the HighlanderCaptured by the Highlander by Julianne MacLean

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First things first: I really don't get into highlander romances. But I really enjoyed MacLean's Victorian romances, so I thought I'd give this one a try. It's set after the Jacobite revolt of 1715. An Englishwoman engaged to a brutal English soldier is kidnapped by the titular Highlander, and in the end they both have to deal with conflicting loyalties and carving out a path for future happiness. I realized while reading this book that I don't like kidnap victim romances either. First of all, it's hard to separate romance in this situation from Stockholm Syndrome. And another is that you have this constant attempt to escape/external danger/protect-recapture cycle going on, which puts the captor in an unfairly better light than he otherwise would be, and usually makes the heroine look annoyingly naive (which this heroine, incidentally, is, at least at the beginning of the book).

None of the Scottish people in this book speak in any kind of accent/dialect whatsoever, and I don't know if that's wisdom on the author's part--I mean, I'm sure most authors can't get it right, so is discretion here the better part of valor? Or is it just that dialogue like "dinna fash yersel', lassie" is part of the cheesy fun of highlander books?

I think this book would appeal to people who like highlander romances or captive type romances, but it wasn't quite capable of drawing in someone like me who doesn't.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Review: Sara's Son

Sara's Son (Harlequin Superromance)Sara's Son by Tara Taylor Quinn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Absolutely the best book I've read so far from this author. Years after 3 men went to jail for statutorily raping her, a recently-divorced woman meets the son she bore as a result of that night--a night neither she nor her assailants remember--and gave up for adoption. He's found evidence that perhaps her attack had been arranged to cover up another crime. As they dig into the past, they start working with one of the convicted rapist--a very nice man who is horrified at himself for doing this thing he doesn't remember doing. Meeting his victim and working with her gives him a chance at love again--but can they overcome the past?

If you find the concept of a woman falling for the man who apparently date-raped her difficult to swallow and offputting--normally, so would I. But Quinn pulls it off, probably because she shows the hero as such a genuinely kind and caring person, surprisingly untainted by years in prison, who may be as much a victim as the heroine. Recommended.

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Review: Prelude to a Scandal

Prelude to a Scandal (Scandal, #1)Prelude to a Scandal by Delilah Marvelle

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A very quirky romance. At the outset of the book, Lady Justine's family is laboring under a bit of a scandal--her father, a naturalist, took his family to South Africa where he apparently went on Big Gay Al's Big Gay Boat Ride and came back to Regency England saying that it's OK to be gay. But Regency England wasn't quite ready for such a progressive attitude, and between "conspiracy to promote buggery" and, of course, debt her father is imprisoned. She offers her body to her father's patron, the Duke (10 points!) of Bradford, in exchange for her father's freedom. He offers to marry her instead.

According to the introductory material, Marvelle was taken by the idea of writing an historical romance where the hero is (in modern terms) a sex addict, which is a genuinely interesting concept. Unfortunately, the implementation is tricky. Bradford is trying to cure himself of sex addiction by cold-turkey celibacy; this doesn't combine well with marriage, and he starts acting like a douche. But in Justine he gets someone who calls him on his crap and encourages him to be a better man, which is probably the best part of this story. The end of the book dissolves into sheer stupidity.

I'm not sure what to make of this book, actually. Marvelle's a pretty wretched stylist (though nowhere near as bad as Cheryl Holt), but the plot of this book is pretty readable and interesting--up until the point where I wanted to throw it against the wall, that is.

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Review: Follow My Lead

Follow My LeadFollow My Lead by Kate Noble

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Miss Winnifred Crane has everything she needs to be respected as an art historian in Regency England--except a penis. To prove herself, she must show that a famous painting is miscredited, which requires her to travel to Europe. Jason Cummings, Duke (10 points!) of Rayne is responsible for her safety on the first leg of the trip, yet finds himself shangaied by Winn herself! And this book turns into an incredibly fun road romance, as the two fall into adventures and misadventures, and lose their money and eventually their hearts. I really loved this book and can recommend it highly. The only issue I had with it is that all the Germans apparently spoke Russian, as they kept saying "Da" for yes.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Review: Breathless

Breathless (The House of Rohan, #3)Breathless by Anne Stuart

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An eeeeeevil nobleman bent on revenge against the Rohan family, abducts the daughter of the family. She's already been "ruined" by one of his previous plots. And this guy is really a nasty piece of work, one of those "he can't possibly be a hero because he's obviously a villain types. He finds out he's bit off more than he can chew as the heroine subtly gets her own back...including doing something that still makes me laugh thinking of it. But...did Stuart make this work? The line between dark hero and slimeball is pretty fine in this book and while I did buy the screwed-up relationship in the end, I hope the heroine tortures the hero even more because, dammit, he deserves it! There's an interesting subplot involving the heroine's cousin and a jewel thief, which is well-done. And it wasn't the same plot as Ruthless and Reckless, which was a relief.

I'm wondering if Stuart is going to have any more books in this series and if so, what they will be titled if the heroes keep getting darker and darker? Feckless? Faithless? Dickless?

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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Review: The Devil in Disguise

The Devil in Disguise (Regency Rogues, #1)The Devil in Disguise by Stefanie Sloane

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Note: I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book free through the Goodreads First Reads program.

Our heroine, Lady Lucinda Grey is beautiful and intelligent and besieged by suitors because she is also incredibly rich. Our hero, Will, the Duke (10 points!) of Clairemont, is a rake and a spy! But that is not all, oh no, that is not all. He has received the sobriquet of "Iron Will" because he when he gets really angry he goes to the boxing ring and beats people up; also he breaks furniture. I'm not sure how you get "Iron" from that, but the nickname sounds formidable. At any rate, his mysterious spy agency--mysterious because exactly how the need for an unofficial spy agency embedded within a gentlemen's club arose and developed is completely unexplained--discovers that a notorious French assassin is plotting to kidnap Lucinda for her money (the assassin is working for Fouche, supposedly, but again, it is unexplained why Fouche would find in using a murderous psychopath to kidnap an English heiress essential to protecting the national security of France). Will is assigned to guard Lucinda under the guise of courting her. This goes awry, as things will do, when they start falling for each other for realz.

Overall I thought this book was a pleasant, light read, but with some issues that I hope will not be in the other books in the series, like the unexplained plot points. Also there is a lot of "telling, not showing"--we know Lucinda is witty and intelligent because the author and other characters say she is witty and intelligent, not because she actually says or does anything witty. She does do some brave things, particularly at the end, though, which almost of makes up for it. Will's character interested me and I would have liked to see it more fleshed out. Sloane is also better at building sexual tension than resolving it, alas, and the book, like the tension, shows more promise more than fulfillment.

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Review: Midnight's Wild Passion

Midnight's Wild PassionMidnight's Wild Passion by Anna Campbell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anna Campbell is an author I've followed with interest, because no matter how good or bad her books have been in the past (and IMO they range from nearly campily melodramatic to disturbing to excellent), I am totally unable to put them down until I've finished them. They're like crack for bookworms. First I read Untouched, which is riveting in all its over the top melodrama; I gulped it down despite the soap-opera-ish plot. Then I read Claiming the Courtesan, which I liked despite the fact that I totally HATE rape-filled books where the hero might as well be the villain--which left me feeling guilty and conflicted. Then I read another couple of books of hers which were just increasingly good, and not in a way that made me hate myself the next morning.

And this one is even better. Our hero, the Marquess (5 points!) of Ranelaw is a rake, and he's out for revenge. Godfrey Demarest seduced and ruined his sister many years ago, and now Ranelaw plans to ruin Demarest's daughter in revenge. Because what makes better sense in a revenge plan than totally destroying an innocent and uninvolved person? But in order to compromise Demarest's daughter, Ranelaw has to get through her chaperone first. Her not-obviously-yet-very-attractive chaperone, Antonia Smith. Yes, soon Ranelaw is distracted like a toddler by a lollipop, stops focusing on his original goal, and proceeds to woo Antonia instead. (If this reminds you of Anne Stuart's The Devil's Waltz, well, it reminded me of it too, but Campbell takes things in a different direction). Antonia Smith is not what or who she seems, however, and as their relationship develops, Ranelaw becomes more and more undone.

What I really liked about this book is that it is unmistakably the portrayal of two people falling in love. Not two people under a shared sexual obsession, or two people whose affection is undermined by immature tendencies to leap to conclusions, overreact, and throw jealous rages--things which lesser romances resort to, because romantic love challenged by genuine conflict (and genuine resolution) is difficult to convincingly portray. And Campbell pulls it off here, without a doubt.

This was almost a 5-star book, and I still would put it at 4.5 stars. The only problem I had with it was with the ending, where Ranelaw started charging around doing things that made sense only to him (or at least, they didn't make sense to me, but they might make sense to a man who thinks that ruining a girl to hurt her father is a good revenge plot), and then there is a very abrupt ending, and just when I was giving my e-reader a WTF? look about this, the book skipped to a really satisfying epilogue.

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Review: Sunrise Over Texas

Sunrise Over TexasSunrise Over Texas by M.J. Fredrick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alone with her mother-in-law and sister-in-law in a Texas fort after a series of tragedies, a young widow rescues a lone rider who has fallen ill. After nursing the man back to health, they must battle harsh conditions in order to make it back to civilization and make peace with their pasts before they can be together. This is a story of frontier survival as well as a romance--the historical details seemed very well-done, and I enjoyed this book very much.

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Review: Invitation to Ruin

Invitation to RuinInvitation to Ruin by Bronwen Evans

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book starts out with a mistaken-identity rape of sleeping respectable girl (instead of her slutty cousin). Well, it seems mistaken but it soon becomes quite clear that the hero has been set up by his TOTALLY INSANE family members to do this because they think this girl is right for him (WTF? moment #1).

At any rate, this little horrorshow inevitably, as this is a Regency romance, leads to an engagement as opposed to prosecution. But the hero is adverse to having children--he doesn't want to pass on his father's legacy of abuse--so he won't repeat his "mistake" with his fiancee/wife although he's been a total manslut to date (WTF? moment #2).

While the hero and heroine are trying to establish their relationship, a pair of perverted (in graphic detail!) villains/slavers try to keep this pair apart by kidnapping the heroine in order to sell her as a sex slave. The villains in this book are over the top in their awfulness, and I was really put off by the detail about their sadistic sexual practices and also the horrible assault on the heroine--which itself was sort of waved away by the characters at the end as a total nonissue, in the final WTF? moment of the book--near the end of the book, the villain perpetuates an sexual assault on the heroine. Which is totally NOT DEALT WITH at all in the book--the characters are all like "Oh, she wasn't raped, thank God" and the heroine is told and decides not even to tell her husband about it--like being forced to give oral sex is really not "rape rape" (to quote Whoopi Goldberg). The emotional fallout from this sort of thing in the real world--especially the Regency milieu when oral sex was probably considered sodomy or an act against nature--would have been intense, and IMO it should have been dealt with in some way during the denouement. I'm still getting hot face thinking about it.

I really can't in good conscience recommend this book. Major chunks of plot made no sense at all and too much of it was repulsive but written in a way that made you wonder if it wasn't meant to be titillating too. Just...ugh.

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Review: Bond Of Blood

Bond Of BloodBond Of Blood by Roberta Gellis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Set in England during the reign of King Stephen. A noble fifteen-year-old girl is married off--for political reasons--to a neighboring lord. He's a hardened soldier with a foot deformity. She's sweet and innocent. And her father is secretly plotting at very high levels to kill his son-in-law, recoup his own lands as well as his son-in-law's, and consolidate a power base in Wales. A lot of the plot of the book revolves around this scheme and its resolution, as well as related conspiracies involving Henry Plantagenet (later Henry II).

The hero of this book is the first romance hero I've read in a long time who is actually horrible in bed! And he's--let's say less abusive to the heroine than her father is. This book is probably historically accurate when it comes to relationships but still sounds horrible to modern people--the husband is possessive, jealous, unfaithful, and inconsiderate, and beats the heroine on a few occasions. The heroine is submissive and uses her tears to manipulate her husband; on the other hand, her own behavior at court shows that she is smart as a whip. I would have liked to see them working together as a team in the court-intrigue-political part of the plot, that would have been more compelling but their lack of trust--for good plot reasons--precluded this.

And they call this a romance! or they did in 1975.

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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Review: The Wake of the Lorelei Lee: Being an Account of the Adventures of Jacky Faber, on her Way to Botany Bay

The Wake of the Lorelei Lee: Being an Account of the Adventures of Jacky Faber, on her Way to Botany Bay (Bloody Jack, #8)The Wake of the Lorelei Lee: Being an Account of the Adventures of Jacky Faber, on her Way to Botany Bay by L.A. Meyer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So. Our Jacky arrives in England only to be arrested--sound familiar? But this time her sentence is commuted to transportation to Australia--in her own ship, in company with thieves, whores, and an unexpectedly merry captain. There's plenty of maritime adventure here and lots of piratey things. If you're reading this because you are looking for a resolution to the romance between Jacky and the perpetually blue-balled Jaimy Fletcher, don't bother. But if you like Jacky the pirate rascal rising from adversity only to be whack-a-moled back down and spring up again, it's a good read. I liked it better than the last book. This series continues to remind me of the Flashman series in a three-way with the Aubrey/Maturin and Horatio Hornblower series--but I'm starting to long for Fraser's historical footnotes.

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Review: Impulse

ImpulseImpulse by Candace Camp

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As a girl, Angela was separated from her stableboy lover Cam and forced to marry an abusive lord. Now she's divorced, and he's back...and he won't rest until he's compelled her to marry him. Is he seeking revenge or something else? Who is his father? And who is trying to do him harm and why? A mostly pleasant read with your typical Camp plot twistiness (I usually guess the first mystery but not the second!), but some of Angela's suffering with her first husband is pretty awful.

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Friday, April 29, 2011

Review: My Reckless Surrender

My Reckless SurrenderMy Reckless Surrender by Anna Campbell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this book because it was the heroine who was the morally questionable character, not the hero. A villainous old Marquess has a plot--he is impotent, dying of cancer, and his heirs are all dead. So he arranges for his steward's beautiful daughter to seduce his rake of an illegitimate son--the payoff for her is that he (the Marquess) will marry her once she gets pregnant. Poor rakish illegitimate son, because he falls in love with this heroine and she is initially only after his sperm. I really enjoy romances where the hero and/or heroine have to deal with the consequences of their bad behavior, and I like 'em sexy and angsty. Campbell here delivers all three.

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Review: Untouched

UntouchedUntouched by Anna Campbell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mistaken, somehow, for a prostitute while lost in the port of Bristol, respectable widow Grace Paget is kidnapped and left strapped to a table by 2 nasty henchman before being discovered by a man who calls himself "mad." Yes, she is the present from his creepy semi-usurping Uncle John who wants his virgin nephew sated by sex so he won't escape the cottage in which he is imprisoned. Faced with rape and death as the alternative, Grace seduces Matthew, Lord Sheene--their initial encounter is predictably awful, but he catches on quick, figures out cunnilingus himself--he's a botanist--and bang! they fall for each other. But can they escape from the wicked uncle and his henchman and find happiness at last? Despite the melodramatic schlock factor (and it certainly has that), Campbell's writing is so addictive I had trouble putting this book down.

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Review: Midnight Marriage

Midnight MarriageMidnight Marriage by Lucinda Brant

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Because I just have to occasionally filk my reviews:

I was woken up at midnight and my nurse made me high
They married me off to a drunken teenager cuz I was high
I don't remember getting married at all, and now I know why-y-y
Because I was high
Because I was high
Because I was high
da da dum dum dum dum

In this novel which was apparently partially based on a true story, a 12-year-old girl is woken up at midnight, drugged, and married off to a Duke's son for reasons that make sense only if you're an aristocrat dealing with a problem child but nonetheless scared of a mesalliance. Years later they meet again--and the husband decides to claim his bride by wooing and wedding her (again) without telling her about the original marriage. This is an awesome idea. As expected, it sows distrust into the couple's precarious relationship at the point in time when a family enemy is ready to strike.

Lucinda Brant's books remind me of the romances I used to read when I was younger, but I don't see much of anymore. The heat level is mild. The main characters are charming. The aristocrats are, probably historically accurately, simultaneously charming and horrible snobs. There are duels and elopements and secrets and intrigue--all the ingredients you want to have a really swashbuckling tale . They remind me a little bit of Georgette Heyer's early romances without being annoyingly derivative.

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Review: Heart of Stone: A Novel

Heart of Stone: A Novel (Irish Angel, #1)Heart of Stone: A Novel by Jill Marie Landis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Respectable widow Laura Foster runs a boarding house in a small Texas town, and is courted by the town's pastor--but she has a secret: she's a former prostitute. As her past comes crashing into her present, so does the pastor's--he's been hiding a secret too. This was a good read, and, as my stamp of approval for any inspirational romance, not too preachy, but with a good handle on forgiveness and redemption.

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Review: A Regimental Murder

A Regimental Murder (Captain Lacey, #2)A Regimental Murder by Ashley Gardner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After Captain Gabriel Lacey rescues a lady of quality near the docks, he is drawn both to her personally, and to solve the mystery of what happened with her husband--suspected of murdering a fellow officer at Badajoz, he himself was recently murdered. In the course of the investigation, Lacey must hob-nob with aristocratic reprobates and prizefighters, attend the Regency equivalent of a key party, and suffer unexpected heartbreak. Another excellent installment in this series.

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Review: The Hanover Square Affair

The Hanover Square Affair (Captain Lacey, #1)The Hanover Square Affair by Ashley Gardner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First of a series of Regency-set historical mysteries featuring a Peninsular War veteran, Captain Gabriel Lacey. When Lacey is asked to investigate the disappearance of a young lady and her maid, he uses his friendship with a popular man about town to unearth the secrets of a man who can provide anyone with anything--but is he the villain? More interesting than the mystery--itself twisty and well-plotted--is Lacey's character (this is a first-person narration) and his social circle, including a complex relationship with his former commanding officer and that officer's wife, Louisa Brandon. This was an excellent read and a refreshing departure from the more usual romance set in this era (note: author Gardner also writes romance as Jennifer Ashley). The series is being re-issued in ebook; I can't wait to read the rest.

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Review: A Marriage of Inconvenience

A Marriage of InconvenienceA Marriage of Inconvenience by Susanna Fraser

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Prequel to The Sergeant's Lady.

Poor relation Lucy Jones is flattered and happy when her cousin Sebastian offers for her hand in marriage, but her aunt makes her promise to keep the engagement a secret. As the family travels for another cousin's wedding, they encounter the Arrington siblings. Sebastian falls for Anna, while Lucy and James hit it off. The re-assembling of romantic partnerships at this point would seem obvious and does indeed happen. But the adjustment to marriage, especially a hasty marriage, is not always easy, whether you are keeping a secret from your spouse or he only thinks you are...

I really enjoyed this book. It started out slowly, but it had a real slice-of-historical-life feel--the dialogue, the house party of characters, and the portrayal of family and successful and unsuccessful romantic relationships. A lot of what makes historicals, and more specifically Regencies, appealing to me is the detailed portrayal of a social setting (with its attendant rules, customs and mores which can be so different from ours), especially the family connections among the gentry and aristocracy, and Fraser delivers on this level as well.

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Review: Rock Hard

Rock Hard (Sinners on Tour, #2)Rock Hard by Olivia Cunning

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Second in her series about the rock group "The Sinners." Lead singer Sedric "Sed" Lionheart (I hope this is not his real name) had his heart broken years ago by his fiancee, Jessica Chase, when they argued over her desire to go to law school. It's now a few years later, and having unfairly lost her scholarship, Jessica starts stripping. Not long after that, Sed comes into the club and back into her life. Enter Myrna (heroine of the first book), who hires Jessica to "enter data" for her plot device groupie sex life study while Myrna and lead singer Brian are on their honeymoon, enabling Jessica and Sed to rekindle their sex life. But Sed's friends blame Jessica for his assholish behavior after their breakup, and Sed's fans hate her for breaking his heart. It also turns out Sed and Jessica have a fetish for having sex in public. There is no way any of this could possibly go wrong.

I enjoyed this book almost as much as the first. While the sex scenes remain hot, they're a little less kinky than in the first book. I found myself paying more attention to the plot, actually particularly the parts about the injuries to various band members (threatening their careers and reminding me of the financial and artistic precariousness of a musician's life) and the secrets Jessica uncovers at her law school as she attempts to get her scholarship reinstated.

So...rock on, Sinners! \nn/

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Review: A Sense of Sin

A Sense of SinA Sense of Sin by Elizabeth Essex

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Convinced that Miss Celia Burke is responsible for his sister Emily's death, Rupert, Viscount Darling (2 points! And isn't that name darling?) decides to pursue his revenge by betting his friends that he can seduce her and ruin her without once touching her. However, Celia, herself mourning Emily's death, turns out to be much more perceptive and attractive than Lord Darling counted upon. It soon becomes obvious, as their relationship develops with unintended effects on their lives and families, that they are also both pawns in a larger game they don't yet comprehend.

The characters in this book were well-developed and interesting. Darling has a particularly complex background--as a younger man he left his aristocratic family to enlist in the Royal Marines--eventually being promoted into the officer's ranks. Part of the book shows how his behavior affected his family relationships both negatively and positively, and his reconciliation with his parents. I particularly liked Essex's portrayal of Celia as a botany nerd, monomaniacal and meticulous in the way of 18th-19th century scholar/gentle(wo)men.

I really enjoyed this book. The plot was twisty without being byzantine, the foreshadowing was nicely done, and the prose was just delightful. The non-touching seduction was some of the hottest stuff I have read without there being actual touching. And, bonus! The hero was not a spy!

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Review: Intentions of the Earl

Intentions of the Earl (Scandalous Sisters, #1)Intentions of the Earl by Rose Gordon

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A debt-ridden earl (3 points!) is bribed by a duke (10 points!) to compromise and ruin a young American woman. However, the young woman is not without resources of her own.

This was almost an DNF. It is self-published and really needs an editor's hand--the diction is often awkward, noticeably so, and there are a number of malapropisms (depart for impart, prodigy for protege, viscous for vicious, etc.). Also, there seems to be no sense of history except as wallpaper. This is 1812 and they are an American family in London. 18-freakin'-12, and no mention of international tensions or, oh, British interference with US shipping, or THE WAR THAT IS ABOUT TO BREAK OUT at all. Not to mention the American family is more like a modern family than a family of 1812. Culturally things would not have been SO much different between New York of 1812 and London that a girl would have to wonder why a man didn't powder his hair and reject the whole idea of having servants (it's not like the America of 1812 had washing machines and vacuum cleaners. Servants here have been a feature of middle class households until appliances took their place). There is also a nerdly character who is reading a magazine named, I think (I'm working from memory here) _Popular Plants_. As opposed to something even vaguely 18th/19th century sounding like "Proceedings of the Royal Horticultural Society." But maybe this is picking at nits. There certainly were plenty of those to pick. On the other hand, one touch that seemed like it might actually be historically accurate is that the girl wasn't as easy to seduce as they usually are in novels like this.

So...I stuck with this book because a friend liked it The romance itself, plot and characters, weren't that badly done but I kept getting distracted by the bad prose and bad history. The book shows promise but I don't think it's ready for prime time yet.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Review: It's Not About Me

It's Not About Me (A Second Glances Novel, #1)It's Not About Me by Michelle Sutton

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I picked this up because it was supposed to be an "edgy" Christian romance and I was interested to see what was meant by that. I suppose "edgy" means total melodramatic trainwreck, because the book certainly was that. But maybe it was the vomiting because there was plenty of that too.

Annie is a Nice Christian Girl dating a Tony, a preacher's kid who has started hanging out with a Bad Influence Friend (character not fleshed out) who releases Tony's inner Mr. Hyde. Tony starts looking at porn and pressuring Annie for sex, leading indirectly to Annie being horribly assaulted and Tony into becoming even more of jerk, but this time with added drinking problem. Enter Dan, Tony's Nice Christian brother who has long admired Annie from afar, and who is just thrilled to be there for her while Tony is struggling with his own metaphorical demons. There's also a subplot involving Annie's "friend" Susie, who has a crush on Dan and plots to keep him and Annie apart. So poor Annie is surrounded by all these douchebags. It's no wonder she turns to Jesus.

But Wait! you say. Didn't you describe Annie in the first paragraph as a Nice Christian Girl? Hasn't she already turned to Jesus? Well, Annie thinks she is a Christian in the opening of the book, too, but apparently she isn't really a really REAL Christian despite believing in Jesus and wanting to be a Christian, and praying to be one, and being observant and making choices to do the right things--the things which I thought make up Christianity. No, she has to pray AGAIN, apparently it didn't work the first time, because if you're a really REAL Christian God you have to pray (again?), and then God will talk to you telepathically nearly constantly. (Which, is not, in my experience at least, the way it works, but maybe I'm not a really REAL Christian, or maybe this is more of a work of fiction than I thought it was supposed to be). So every time each one of these trainwreck characters reaches a crisis point in their life (every 50 pages or so), Dan is there--not to tell them to get right with God because they've lost their way, because most people do lose their way every now and then on their Christian walk--but to tell them to convert.

So, yeah, despite having all the violence, teen social problems, and puking (assault-, alcohol-, and food poisoning-related) you could ask for, from which the "edginess" comes, this book was also very preachy, and it was preaching something I can't really get behind, namely that those who really desire to be a Christian and have started down that path, but somehow lose track of where they really ought to be spiritually aren't really saved, somehow. I was reminded, actually, of Martin Luther's advice:

Whosoever accepts the Son and is baptized and believes on his Word will be saved....If you wish to escape from despair and hate, let your speculation go. There is no other way. Otherwise you must remain a doubter the rest of your life. God did not come down from heaven to make you uncertain about predestination or to cause you to despise the Sacraments. He instituted them to make you more certain and to drive such speculations out of your mind....Cling to the revealed God, allow no one to take the child Jesus from you, hold fast to him, and you will not be lost. The Father desires you. The Son wishes to be your Saviour and Liberator.
(Letters of Spiritual Counsel)

So, to sum up the book: the plot and characters were over the top dramatic, the book was preachy (as opposed to illuminating an inner spiritual journey), and I had real issues with the theology. As for the writing, I found the prose to be very readable but the plotting didn't seem particularly tight--the "Susie" subplot exploded pretty much out of nowhere late in the book. Overall probably about 2.5 stars but I had to choose between 2 and 3.

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Review: The Spare

The Spare The Spare by Carolyn Jewel

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was marketed, electronically, with the subtitle "A Sexy Regency Romance" which made me think it would be much like the same author's book Lord Ruin (also marketed the same way)--a romance/mystery with some good plotting between the sex scenes. However, this is a mystery/gothic/ghost/love story without much sexytime at all. Our hero is recovering from war wounds and attempting to solve the mystery of his brother's murder. He becomes sexually and romantically interested in our heroine, who was mysteriously injured during the same attack, and he wonders about her involvement. Complicating matters, there is an ancestral ghost (well, why not?), who makes a nice plot device to get the two together and also adds atmosphere. I found it hard to track what was a dream sequence and what was reality, seems like most of the love scenes were dream sequences except when they weren't. Also the evil villain fizzled out to pathetic at the end, which was kind of disappointing. Again, a promising book that didn't quite pay off (and I really love Jewel's more recent historicals, enough to keep buying her backlist).

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Friday, April 8, 2011

Review: Backstage Pass

Backstage Pass (Sinners on Tour, #1)Backstage Pass by Olivia Cunning

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let me be straight with you. I am not really a rock and roll fan. The closest I have been to a rock concert is the Pogues on St. Patrick's day (or David Byrne at the Warner Theater). I also think 10 inches is wayyyy too long as a penis size, and would rather jump off a bridge rather than allow any kind of candy in any bodily orifice that is not my mouth. That said, I really liked this erotic romance. It's about a human sexuality professor, Myrna Evans, who is a rock fan, and who meets the big-time group The Sinners in a hotel lounge. She immediately hits it off best with the lead guitarist, Brian "Master" Sinclair, and turns out to be his muse. Myrna manages to get a plot device academic grant to study the mating habits of groupies, so she can tour with the band. However, Myrna has some baggage from her psychostalker ex-husband that keep her from committing to her rock and roll lover. I found this book really interesting and well-done. The sex scenes are hot, and there are many of them, yet on another level the book had a solid plot and is often raunchily realistic (the bathroom sex scene! I won't spoil it for you!). I found the portrait Cunning drew of bad-boy rockers on the road to be interesting--they are, mostly, guys. You know: slobs. Eating at McDonalds every day. Crude with each other. That sort of thing. But they have to deal with the effects of their fame, their itinerant life, and their musical talents as well. One of the defining characteristics of the hero of this book is that he's looking for a meaningful relationship (so sweet) in a world where most of the women he meets are either only in love with his stage persona or are so unbelievably promiscuous he can't trust them.

NB: As of the time I post this review, this book is still free as an e-book at B&N and Amazon.

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Review: Amelia O'Donohue Is So Not a Virgin

Amelia O'Donohue Is So Not a VirginAmelia O'Donohue Is So Not a Virgin by Helen Fitzgerald

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rachel Ross is the best at keeping secrets. At age 9 she told a secret that nearly destroyed her parents' marriage and sent them to exile on a Scottish island she hates--where her parents turned super-religious (the local style) and there are no opportunities. She has a boyfriend she doesn't like, no really close friends, and longs for an academic life in an elite boarding school. When she becomes involved in a local scandal, her parents finally send her to boarding school, where she becomes known as both an academic grind and a keeper of secrets--who has a secret cat, who has embarrassing bathroom accidents, and what Popular Amelia O'Donohue (her dorm neighbor) does with her boyfriend on the fire escape. But one day, Rachel discovers a secret that can't in good conscience be kept, and she must not only find out whose secret it is, but also whether Amelia can also be the friend she's never had.

And...WOW. While on one level this is a YA book, it's also a kind of psychological thriller at the end. This book has one of those shocker endings that cast everything that's come before into a different light, prompting a re-read almost immediately. It is one of those books that sticks in your mind for a long time. It would probably also make a great movie. Highly recommended.

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Review: Secrets of a Proper Countess

Secrets of a Proper CountessSecrets of a Proper Countess by Lecia Cornwall

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A widowed countess (3 points?) is forced into a facade of strict propriety due to the terms of her husband's will, which leaves control of her behavior, access to her son, and her means of support entirely to her strict mother-in-law. It is therefore very risky to go off with a man at a masked ball--yet she does. I do like it when the hero/heroine get down to business in the first 20 pages of a book! But our hero has secrets of his own--hold onto your hats, ladies!--he's really a spy! And he suspects that our heroine is behind a murderous Bonapartist plot.

While I get tired of the spy plots--if all these romances were true, nearly every non-villainous English aristocrat between 1800 and 1815 would be either a spy, a rake, or both--and our hero is both, of course--this one was very well done. The plot is original, the writing is polished, the characters are sympathetic and likeable, the love scenes are hot, the villains get what is coming to them, and it has a mother protecting her child. What could tug the heartstrings more?

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Review: It Happened One Season

It Happened One SeasonIt Happened One Season by Stephanie Laurens

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an interesting concept anthology. The concept, voted on by romance readers, is that each author writes a Regency novella that meets the following criteria:

The younger brother of a titled lord, the hero had a career in the army but has lived as a recluse since returning from the war with France.

Heroine is shy or unattractive and after many seasons has never had a suitor.

Hero's brother has only daughters and asks his brother to marry in order to try to ensure that succession stays within their family.

...and 4 stories that are not at all alike emerged. Mary Balogh's (about a widow's would-be affair) and Jacquie D'Alessandro's (about a nude-scuplting governess) novellas were probably my favorites, but Stephanie Laurens's contribution (in which the h/h bust a blackmailer) was surprisingly good as well (and, if I recall correctly, the sequel to her novella in It Happened One Night). I have to reiterate here my opinion that Balogh really excels in short format, and after reading this anthology I would add that Laurens does as well. I think sometimes the longer single-title books allow these authors to indulge in scenes/repetition that really don't play to their strengths as writers.

Overall this was a very enjoyable and entertaining collection that has got me back into reading historicals after my recent foray into contemporaries!

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Review: Pleasure Me

Pleasure MePleasure Me by Monica Burns

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An aging (40-ish) courtesan faces retirement by falling for a younger man. Oh, and he's a virgin (despite his rakish reputation) because of a minor genital defect. She's been abandoned by her father, and he's been emotionally abused. Also, they both want to raise orphans. Could there be a more perfect match? This was good; angsty and with great sexual tension.

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Review: One Night Is Never Enough

One Night Is Never Enough (Secrets, #2)One Night Is Never Enough by Anne Mallory

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A gambler of a father, hoping that his beautiful daughter will make a good marriage to save the family finances, inexplicably gambles a night with her away to a man who runs a gambling business. The daughter, our heroine, and the gambling club owner (our hero) fall for each other after a midnight chess game, but their class differences, her family's expectations, and the danger associated with his lifestyle need to be dealt with before they can be happy together. Like most other books I've read by Mallory, I found this book an enjoyable diversion.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Review: An Unlikely Countess

An Unlikely Countess (Malloren #11)An Unlikely Countess by Jo Beverley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another spin-off of the Malloren series. When Cate Burgoyne (male) rescues her from attackers, Prudence Youlgrave is hesitant to open up to him--yet they from a sort of bond as she confesses to him that her middle-class brother (who lives in another town) is neglecting her and she barely has enough money to survive. When she finally goes to her brother and obtains his help, she finds herself married off to an unappealing merchant. Cate arrives just in time to stop the wedding and steal the bride...if only he could keep the outraged spurned suitor from attempting revenge, and get up the nerve to tell his new wife that he's become an Earl since he last saw her...

This is not one of the sexier Beverleys, but I did enjoy it a great deal. The book explores in some detail the contrasts between Prudence's middle-class life and the aristocratic life of the Burgoynes, but does not neglect character development. Both the hero and heroine have things to prove--Cate's been regarded by his family all his life as a screw-up, and he has to prove himself as the head of the family and master of his estates; Prudence, married outside her class, has to prove herself as competent and a a good wife for a man she hardly knows. How they grow into their new roles, and their new relationship, makes the meat of the book, but there is a little bit of action as well (and also a dramatically fun scene involving Diana, Countess of Arradale, from Devilish, hearkening back to what it meant to be a lord or lady of the North (the book is set in Yorkshire) even before the Georgian period). Definitely worth reading.

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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Review: The Irish Bride

The Irish BrideThe Irish Bride by Alexis Harrington

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A novel of Irish immigrants illustrating Stephen Colbert's quip before the House Agriculture Committee: "My grandfather did not travel across 4,000 miles of the Atlantic Ocean to see this country overrun by immigrants. He did it because he killed a man back in Ireland." The hero of this book, an Irish peasant, accidentally kills the heroine's brother, a rent collector for an Evil Landlord. At the exact same time, the heroine (who is engaged to the hero's brother) smacks the Evil Landlord's Evil Son for attempting to rape her. Obviously they have to leave their village posthaste, buttheir relatives make sure they are married before they leave. So they cross the ocean together (unpleasant), and travel west (unpleasant) to begin their new life together (more pleasant but also haunted by tragedy), they need to work through all the fraught brother stuff and tragedy stuff and also evade or defeat the Evil Landlord's Son (who must have nothing else to do for years on end and unlimited funds, because he remains in hot pursuit throughout the WHOLE BOOK). So in the end the only thing in the book that does not really leave me scratching my head is the hero's plot device mad card playing skillz, because, really, how else does a dirt poor Irish peasant afford to travel west and establish himself as a businessman? POKER, of course.

I usually like Harrington but this was far from her best. Yet the glimmering of a good book is hidden here somewhere under the vast plot improbabilities, and the characters themselves were likeable and well-developed--squeaking this book, barely, into 3 stars.

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Friday, March 4, 2011

Review: What I Did For a Duke

What I Did For a Duke (Pennyroyal Green, #5)What I Did For a Duke by Julie Anne Long

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Duke (10 points!) swears revenge on Ian Eversea after finding Ian in bed with his (the Duke's) fiancee. And what more fitting than to seduce and abandon Ian's sister? But once he meets the sister, he finds her not an easy target--she's heartbroken because the man she has loved for years has declared his intention to wed another. And as our hero gets to know her better, the less he wants to ruin or abandon her, and the more he likes her...could it be love?

The beauty of this book isn't in the plot, but in how well the characters are drawn and the way their relationship is developed. This is a romance where you feel sure the characters love each other rather than just being hot for each other--the hero and heroine share not only banter but also a deep bond--it just takes longer for one of them to realize it for another. Long has written some books that have incorporated the far-fetched (I Kissed an Earl) or just plain weird (Since the Surrender), but when she nails it, she nails it, and this book is not only nailed but sanded and finished to perfection.

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Review: Lord Ruin

Lord RuinLord Ruin by Carolyn Jewel

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Duke (10 points!) finds (drugged) woman asleep in his bed; doesn't know her but has sex with her anyway because that is how he rolls. Discovering the next day that she is an injured, misplaced, respectable woman, he marries her to save his political career. Fortunately or un-, he becomes sexually obsessed with her (in detail; this book is hot). Also there is a subplot involving a serial killer. Well-written, slightly problematic hero, an early work by a promising author who has since done better.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Review: Notorious Pleasures

Notorious Pleasures (Maiden Lane, #2)Notorious Pleasures by Elizabeth Hoyt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There's a moonshiner up in the hills, and he falls in love with the sister of a revenooer--oops, sorry, I mean there's a Lord who is really distilling gin in St. Giles which is apparently borderline-illegal or something, I don't know my 18th century liquor laws as well as I ought, but it does seem as if gin was the first distilled liquor that was ever affordable to the common people and thus immediately became a huge social problem, and our hero! is right in the middle of it. However, he falls for an upright and upstanding lady, patroness of a foundling home, who just happens to be engaged to his almost-upright estranged brother. And she's also sister to the duke (10 points!) who is, of course, going after these (quasi-?)illegal gin stills. And she falls for him, too. How fraught! Classic Hoyt, very enjoyable.

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Review: Among Others

Among OthersAmong Others by Jo Walton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Possibly the best book I have read this year. Mori's mother is an evil witch, and Mori and her twin sister, together with the fairies, fought her to save the world--and won. But Mori's sister was killed in the final battle, and Mori was left with a crippled leg. And that's just the back-story...

It's 1979 and Mori has escaped from her mother and is now living with her father in England, far from the Welsh valleys where she has friends and extended family. She has to go boarding school for the first time--and her boarding school isn't anywhere near as fun as Harry Potter (which hasn't been written yet. But Mori, like me, read the Bagnold boarding school books, which make boarding school sound kind of fun, IF you're really athletic and social). A science fiction/fantasy fan, and crippled, Mori doesn't fit in with the class-conscious sporting crowd at school, spending the 3 hours a day that the girls spend in "games" reading in the library. She befriends other outcasts simply because they are other outcasts, not because she has anything in common with them. And her mother seems to be oppressing her in her sleep. This leads her to cast a small spell for protection. She also casts a spell for a group of friends who are also kindred spirits.

The interesting thing about this book is that it works on so many levels, both as fantasy and literary fiction. The type of magic Mori works is "deniable" magic--that is, it could be coincidence that it "works." Is it magic or wishful thinking? Are the fairies real or hallucinations (and if so, why do some other people claim to see them)? Is her mother really an evil witch, or just a madwoman? And if so, has Mori inherited her mother's insanity? What was and is the relationship between Mori and her twin, who appears as a ghostly figure several times? Does magic corrupt? Mori is cautious of the use of magic, because it can only really be used to manipulate people and situations without their knowledge.

And this doesn't even begin to touch on the part of the book that really resonated with me, personally: being 15, being a bookworm, unathletic, and the odd girl out in a world that seems populated with people who do not share your interests at all, in those days before the Internet could hook you up with anyone anywhere--and FINALLY finding people--not only one, but a whole club!-- who share your interests. A whole crowd of them. For Mori, that shared interest is SF/fantasy (as it was, in part, for me also). There is also a great deal here about working the interlibrary loan system, which Mori puts through its paces, and boy do I wish I had known about that as a teen (I should have. I spent enough time at the library)! _Among Others_ is not only an excellent literary fantasy, it is also a coming-of-age book for teenage nerds everywhere. Read this book. You won't regret it.

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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Review: Marry Me

Marry Me (Reidsville, #2)Marry Me by Jo Goodman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Far be it from me to accuse anyone writing romance of a formula, especially Jo Goodman (whose books I adore). Nevertheless, last year, after reading about 8 of her books in the span of a few months, I did find a common pattern to many of them:

$HEROINE is the walking wounded, a victim of $ONE_SICK_PUPPY who has raped, tortured, or blackmailed her. At the opening of the book, $ONE_SICK_PUPPY is not obviously present, but nevertheless he is present somehow. $HEROINE is so damaged and Goodman is so determined to reveal her secrets later in the book, that $HEROINE appears somewhat of a cipher to the reader. $HEROINE meets $HERO, a nice guy who may be initially unfairly judge the heroine but generally falls for her pretty hard. $HERO begins the rescue of $HEROINE with his tender care and wang of mighty lovin'; she then reveals the perfidy of $ONE_SICK_PUPPY. $HERO uses spy or other hero-like skillz to defeat / kill / institutionalize $ONE_SICK_PUPPY and save $HEROINE and possibly assorted dependents.

I should mention, I think this pattern is full of win.

This book has certain elements of the identified pattern, but in other ways is absolutely unique. The heroine, after aforementioned (yet surprisingly spoilery) damage, finds herself recovering in the household of the Reidsville, Colorado town doctor (a recent transplant from New York), eventually employed at looking after the house and the doctor's vivacious yet scarred younger sister. The relationship between the hero and heroine is a lot more straightforward than the secrets of the heroine's past, which keep emerging to shock the reader at every stage, and eventually intertwine with the doctor's medical investigations when an epidemic breaks out. Unlike the previous book in the series, Never Love A Lawman, the final confrontation isn't action-packed, but the conclusion is satisfying nevertheless. An excellent book, highly recommended.

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Review: Love at First Flight

Love at First FlightLove at First Flight by Marie Force

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Problematic contemporary romance about 2 people who meet on a plane. They are flying from Baltimore to Florida to visit their long-distance relationship partners. In Florida, they both break up their relationships, go back to Baltimore on the same flight together again, her car breaks down in the airport parking lot, he sees her home, <insert magical handwaving here> they're in looooooooove with each other, and his trial (he's a prosecutor) of some mobbed up types creates a suspense subplot that resolves before the romantic plot does.

The problem I have with this book is that both the "hero" and "heroine" are such despicable jerks to their other partners (you know, the ones at the beginning of the book) that it makes them totally unsympathetic. The heroine dumps her ex twice! Once because he mentions that he has wondered what it would be like to be someone else, and the second time because he has a moment of jealousy--this would be a person that the heroine acknowledges was with her, sometimes the only one to love her, through thick and thin for 10 years. He was portrayed as a sweetie and totally deserved better than that. The hero is similarly assy to his fiancee--granted she was turning into a bit of a bridezilla and her parents were overbearing, but rather than try to work things out he dumps her in the middle of their engagement party, refuses to work things out, and later (even though she does something to him that I think is absolutely reprehensible) he refuses to take her seriously when something really important happens.

So, this book just didn't work for me. Luckily, it was a free offer so I don't feel like I wasted my money so much as my time. It gets the second star because the author actually writes rather well; if she could summon up some sympathetic characters I might try something else by her.

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Review: Unveiled

Unveiled (Hqn)Unveiled by Courtney Milan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ash Turner would do anything for his brothers. So when their cousin the Duke (10 points!) refuses assistance and leaves his brothers destitute and his sister to die, Ash vows revenge. And revenge he gets, when he discovers the Duke was a bigamist, leaving his sons unable to inherit-- and Ash as the heir presumptive. But the Duke also has a daughter, a daughter who's acting as and has disguised herself as his nurse...and whose loyalty to her family comes into question when she not only falls for Ash, but discovers he's far nicer, actually, than anyone in her family. This is probably my favorite of Milan's novels to date, but _This Wicked Gift_ (from The Heart of Christmas: A Handful of Gold\ The Season for Suitors\ This Wicked Gift) still remains my #1 favorite of hers.

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Monday, January 31, 2011

Review: Never Trust a Scoundrel

Never Trust a Scoundrel (Sons of Scandal, #1)Never Trust a Scoundrel by Gayle Callen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Our heroine arrives in London to discover that her mother--her mother!--has gambled away her hand in marriage to someone who doesn't want it. He is, however, in the market for a new mistress. This is why he's a scoundrel, and why the heroine should not trust him. However, they develop a wager of their own instead (even though she is very anti-gambling, because of the fact that her mother's gambling problem has impoverished and imperiled her): she'll let the scoundrel TRY to seduce her and if she can hold out for two weeks, she gets back an asset that will recover enough of her family's fortune for survival. Now, with that kind of mad loot on the line, I could probably hold out for far longer than two weeks, myself. Interestingly enough, the cover scene is actually in the book, so I'll let the Dear Reader guess how well the whole thing works out for the heroine. An average read for this kind of thing. Characters from The Viscount in Her Bedroom make an appearance in this book as well.

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Review: How to Woo a Reluctant Lady

How to Woo a Reluctant Lady (Hellions of Halstead Hall, #3)How to Woo a Reluctant Lady by Sabrina Jeffries

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hint to the hero: it's easier if you don't kiss her then call her a tramp when she's 19. Also, shocker, the hero has no title (but he is a spy, of course).

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Review: Scandal of the Year

Scandal of the Year (Abandoned at the Altar, #2)Scandal of the Year by Laura Lee Guhrke

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Aidan Carr, the Duke (10 points!) of Trathen is a solid, upright, honorable citizen. Which is why it seems out of character for him to be named correspondent in a scandalous divorce case. Yet he cannot get the memories of his tryst with the notorious Julia, Lady Yardley, out of his mind. Except for the parts he can't remember at all. All of which combine to totally drive him crazy, even as he tries to move on with his life.

Julia, Lady Yardley, is relieved to finally be free of her brutal husband, even though she had to seduce and betray a friend to finally get her husband to divorce her. Yet her financial problems remain, and the only person who can help her appears to be the Duke of Trathen...

This book is a fascinating look into the relationship between two people who seem to be opposite: Aidan dearly wants to be married and have a family, while Julia has very good reason to be wary of entering any institution where someone can control her again. Aidan seeks respectability, while Julia has always been freewheeling. Yet Aidan has his reckless side (he loses control when he drinks, which is why he doesn't usually drink), and Julia is nowhere near as promiscuous as she presents herself.

I really enjoyed this book. Like the first in the series, I thought the ending was a little rushed and a little pat, but overall it is a solid, enjoyable romance, and one that really makes a modern reader appreciate the humane-ness of modern divorce law!

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Review: When Beauty Tamed the Beast

When Beauty Tamed the BeastWhen Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Part of James's series of Regency-set rewrites of fairy tales. I know you will be surprised to hear that this is the one of Beauty and the Beast. However, this Beauty (Linnet Thrynne) is not just beautiful, but she's also smart, and witty, and knows a thing or two about the power struggle between the sexes. And this comes in remarkably handy when a remarkable string of coincidences ruins her reputation, leaving her only with an arranged marriage to a Beastly, lame, and rumored-impotent doctor, who also happens to be the estranged heir to a duke (5 points!). And the result is just marvelous. The banter between the hero and the heroine makes the book before anything truly happens. And the conflict between the two--he's afraid to marry because he fears his disability and pain will either turn him to addiction or emotional abuse--is realistic and not easily solved. There are some heartwrenching scenes, but some great humor in this book as well (there are characters named Kibbles and Bitts! ). I know some people think James is hard to get into, but this book starts out funny, then gets sexy, then gets sad, and by then you're truly hooked. Highly recommended.

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