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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