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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