Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Enslaved by Virginia Henley

Diana longs for love. The love of a 'real' man, not to be found in the London streets where she lives. After trying on a Roman helmet, Diana is transported back in time to the Roman era where she becomes the slave of Marcus Magnus. Their relationship grows and changes but then Diana is transported back into her own time.

I really enjoyed this story. It was sensual, interesting and entertaining. I loved Marcus ( both Marcus'). This is a unique story and really satisfying.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Worth Any Price by Lisa Kleypas

So talking about her books made me go back and reread this one. I love Lisa Kleypas books! Her heroes are the "anti-hero" of Regency historicals - they are almost never members of the aristocracy. The heroes are lower class men who make good and get the woman. This book is no exception (with a twist). This is the third book in her Bow Streeet Runners trilogy - follow up to Someone to Watch over Me and Lady Sophia's Lover. The hero, Nick Gentry, is an ex-con turned bounty hunter after Charlotte, who ran out on her disgusting old groom-to-be. He finds her working at the estate of the Lord Westcliff (who just got his own story in It Happened One Autumn). Their story is terrific - seeing the many sides of Nick Gentry and learning his story is amazing. And Lottie is definitely his match - she wants to take care of herself and has proved she can, but loves having Nick take care of her too. As the song goes, she knows when to hold 'em and knows when to fold 'em. This book just did it for me - even on the fourth or fifth read, which this was.

As I said, this is the third in the trilogy - if you are a series slut and need to read them in order, they go Someone to Watch Over Me, Lady Sophia's Lover, then Worth Any Price. This was the first book by Lisa Kleypas I read a few years back, and I immediately went and got every other book she ever wrote. I highly recommend it, and the others in the Bow Street Trilogy. I am happy to recommend any others by her as well - anything with Derek Craven - the ultimate anti-hero - is also a no brainer.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Irish Devil by Diane Whiteside (spoilers)

Had a friend ask me about this one and I told her, with brutal honesty. I then debated as to whether I should tell you—blog reader—the same thing, in the same words. Decided the answer was yes. It’s crude and contains spoilers. But here goes anyway.

In the Irish Devil, Whiteside sets up the scenario of a woman at jeopardy from a cruel bastard who practically runs their small western mining town. The hero is his enemy, a prosperous and generous freight hauler who is also feared--but who always fights for those who cannot protect themselves. After the first 50 pages, I was attached to the heroine; I feared for her safety and wanted the hero to accept responsibility for protecting her tout suite.

The heroine of course wanted his protection for herself as well. I was not surprised or appalled when she figures that to gain his protection, she would have to offer herself as his mistress for three months. Given the layout of the story and the events leading up to this point, her offer of herself made sense.

But here is where the story breaks down. I absolutely did not care for his pretty much "sure, good idea" acceptance of her proposal. Since Whiteside had presented him as an honorable guy, this didn't seem a good fit. And I certainly did not care for his IMMEDIATE instruction that she go down on him. You know, to get the arrangement well underway. Then, having been struggling to survive, living in fear and having had little in the way of extensive or satisfying sex with her previous husband (she is a widow), our heroine LOVES the oral sex. Of course she did. And when he “plays” with her a bit afterwards (which you and I both know only provides minor release), she is completely satisfied, happy and contented enough to fall blissfully asleep. She then takes up the role of mistress as though she were made for it.

While that scene paved the way for explicit, hot sex going forward in the book, it did nothing to establish any emotional connection or potential emotional connection between these characters.

In the end, I can say I pretty much read it for the sex. Not for the storytelling. No connections. No sharing in a character’s chuckle or sensing another’s hesitation. Nothing.

A Fine Passion by Stephanie Laurens

I really like this Bastion Club series. Laurens gives me exactly the kind of historical romance I prefer. Nuff said. I’ll just give you the published blurb and call it a good read.

The men of the Bastion Club are powerful, loyal, and not averse to overcoming danger if they must. Now, after years of loyal service to the Crown, they each -- one by one -- must face that greatest danger of all

The last of his line, Jack, Baron Warnefleet, has fled London after nearly being compromised into marrying a dreadful female. Turning his back on the entire notion of marriage, he rides home to the estate he has not seen for years, determined to set in motion an alternative course of action.

But then in the lane before his gate, Jack rescues a startlingly beautiful lady from a menacing, unmanageable horse. However, while he begins by taking command, the lady continues by taking it back. Lady Clarice Altwood is no meek and mild miss. She is the very antithesis of the woolly-headed young ladies Jack has rejected as not for him. Clarice is delectably attractive, beyond eligible, undeniably capable, and completely unforgettable. Why on earth is she rusticating in the country?

That enigma is compounded by mystery, and it's quickly clear that Clarice is in danger. Jack must use every ounce of his cunning and wit to protect this highly independent and richly passionate woman ... that has so quickly stolen his heart.

[Quick note: The ‘danger’ to Clarice was minimal—more inferred than realized. You don’t have to tolerate constant peril in this one.]

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Cowboy and the Captive by Lora Leigh

Bit of background: I learned of Ellora’s Cave Publishing (EC) and its authors by way of Sarah McCarty. I learned of Sarah McCarty by way of a monthly NAL email newsletter. The blurb in that newsletter—for Promises Linger—compelled me to buy her book. By the time I had turned the last page, Sarah McCarty had become an auto-buy author for me. One of only a handful.

Promises Linger drew me in, lulled me into trust, tickled my sense of humor and burned me up with its eroticism. It was the first erotic romance I’d read. And it prompted me to look to EC, its publisher, for more authors and more page-turning stories.

What I found: I’ve read a number of EC authors now and have enjoyed quite a few sexy, provocative romps. I’ve found none however, that rival McCarty’s characterization, emotional depth or journey. I’ve found none whose characters linger long beyond the last chapter. I’ve encountered not a single hero I could trust myself to completely. Until now.

Lora Leigh’s Cowboy and the Captive is the newest edition to my keeper shelf. I loved this book and felt just a little blown away by it. I felt the heroine’s betrayal by her parents and the terror that still grips her after being brutalized and nearly killed. I understood her ability to identify with her sister’s other victim—Luc, and her underlying desire to trust him.

Of Luc, I was so grateful for his innate goodness—the fact that he knew right from wrong and that no amount of bitterness or vengeance—or, for that matter, a hard-on--could compel him to mistreat Cat. At times, you think he is going to come close to doing just that, but he can’t. And the reader knows he can’t; and can see his trustworthiness without having to be told.

Cowboy and the Captive is propelled by emotion; not sex. The relationship is established, grown; not bullied or presumed. Trust and emotional vestment come before intimacy in this book. This is particularly important for me. Thus far, I have just not been able to accept the idea that trust and emotional bonds are forged during sex; or as a result of the woman allowing the man to do whatever he wishes to her. While hot, the men as sexual dominant stories always fail to convince me that a man can wring love and trust from his woman by way of sexual pleasure.

In Cowboy and the Captive, Leigh gives us a man that radiates heat, scorching the heroine without even touching her, commanding physical response with just words of sexual domination. But, when we get to that scene where he threatens her—stop or I’m going to fuck you now; decide now or I’m going to take you and there won’t be any turning back; you know the one—our hero repeats the threat three times. And then, groans and begs her to just voice her consent. His core simply prevents him from taking what she does not willingly offer. And no, he doesn’t see her sexual arousal as a willing offer; he needs her express invitation. When he got it, I all but broke out in a fever.

Finally, Leigh gives us a plot and conflict that are not so easy to guess or solve. Whenever I thought I knew where the story was going, Leigh surprised me a bit. From the very beginning, I was befuddled by Cat’s arranged capture—arranged by someone she trusts. As their relationship grew, captivating me, I was still waiting for the other shoe to drop, still trying to figure out where the threat lay. This kept me interested as the characters continued tangling up my heartstrings. I finished the last page with a sigh. And then went online in search of more Leigh titles.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Slightly Dangerous by Mary Balogh

I have found a historical romance author that is not for me. But I’m pretty sure it really is just reader preference and not a reflection on the author’s writing or characterization abilities.

In Slightly Dangerous, our heroine is widowed and poor, ostracized from her late husband’s wealthy and well-positioned family. She is a goofball with huge doses of humor and genuine enthusiasm for life and people. The hero is a ramrod stiff Duke who is unfathomably self-absorbed.

Over the course of the book, we learn that the Duke’s rigidity (and I’m talking about that kind—that would have been more palatable) is the predictable result of too little love and too much responsibility as a boy. Underneath all that pointy condescension is a wry humor and protective streak for our ‘misbehaving’ heroine.

He thaws. She starts to stand up a little straighter and we reach the HEA.

The book was not poorly written. Not at all. I just did not like the characters or the confines they lived within. I have little to no tolerance for being condescended to. And frankly, this starchy hero (starchy even after sex) spends too much of the book doing that. So much so that it really didn’t matter to me when the heroine softened him up. Too little, too late.

As for the heroine, she was a bit too good-natured to be believed (at moments). She took some set downs (as the author called them) that would knock even the most self-confident of us on our ass. In some moments, she suffered as you expect. In other moments, she went completely unaffected. I didn’t buy it. Or I wasn’t reading it closely enough. Which could have been the case because I was in a ‘put off’ frame of mind.

Again. Probably a good book to many. For me, I like a hero who bucks society’s demands (right from the damn start) and a heroine who lets herself feel. And one with the nerve to deliver some set downs of her own.

NJ Walters’ Awakening Desires – Series

Blip: Lori also reviewed Capturing Carly; see post from November 7th.

This three-book series is comprised of Katie’s Art of Seduction, Erin’s Fancy and Capturing Carly. All three are simple love stories. No unexpected plot twists or complex mysteries. No conflict—aside from the emotional tugging between her characters. Readers can simply relax and watch each relationship unfold; experiencing only minor tension as we watch footing won, lost, then won again.

I like the fact that Walters centers each of these books on the relationship between the H&H—with very little distraction. And I really like the attention she pays to the characters’ uncertainties—particularly those harbored by her independent heroines. I enjoyed watching as they acknowledged their doubts, and then dealt with them. Walters conveys this transition with truthfulness and realism. It was refreshing to see each woman reason through her doubts (moving toward choice), instead of simply placing her trust in her hero, blindly. I appreciated the honesty and responsibility Walters gave these women.

Walters’ heroes appealed to me because 1) they are quite large (exceptionally tall, broad-shouldered-- sorry but that really does it for me) and 2) possessive (a distinctly alpha and very bossy characteristic that also appeals to me). Their emotional journeys were interesting, but more predictable (in a romance fiction kind of way—recognizing their dream/wish in a single moment of enlightenment).

Her secondary characters are well drawn and interesting, but she weaves them into the story without drawing the reader’s focus entirely from the H&H. Even readers who keep their eyes peeled for the star of the next book will find it hard to stray from the bonds of the relationship currently at center stage.

Oh, and the sex was very good. Erotic. Intimate, personal—as opposed to clinical. And no ick moments. Very hot. <>

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Someone to Believe in by Kathryn Shay

I love Kathryn Shay's books. Haven't read one that I didn't like. I was a little hesitant to read this one, I must admit. The hero is a US senator, and I immediately thought - stodgy, old, corrupt. Uh uh. Senator Clay Wainwright comes across as very human, with a real life and real life problems. The heroine, Bailey, struggles to get teens out of gangs. Clay, her nemesis, has different thoughts on how this should be done, and refuses to fund her projects. He is also the man, who as DA, put her in jail for a year a decade earlier. Needless to say, they don't like each other very much. But as the book progresses, they become grudgingly respectful of each other's positions, as well as increasingly attracted to one another.

Almost all of this book was believable (just a couple spots where I thought, hmmm...). My main stereotype to overcome was thinking that a senator could be hot and sexy. Kathryn Shay blew that one out of the water. Who'da thunk a senator could be so sexy and creative? The tension and disagreements between Clay and Bailey were totally on target and believable, as was their growing attraction and love. The gang situations were handled with sensitivity and came across as quite real. This one gets a thumbs up from me.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Too Hot to Handle by Cheryl Holt

I love Cheryl Holt's books because she is not afraid to show the depraved underbelly of society in her historicals. This one has Emily seeking a governess position. Oops - she happened to come to Michael's (the Earl of Winchester) house during the mistress "interviews" instead of the governess interviews, and gets quite an eyeful. After clearing up the misunderstanding somewhat, Michael hires her (as governess, but wants her for mistress). Loads of sexual tension and hot sex scenes along with a great backstory of Michael and his brother, who falls for Emily's blind sister. Mixed in are Michael's nasty ex-mistress and his conniving teenage ward, each of whom wants him for themselves and is willing to do anything to Emily to get him.

I love that the men are very improper in her books, and nothing seems off limits. These are some serious bad boys. Match them up with curious innocent women, and the results are hot! The sex scenes are steamy and the story intriguing. Another thumbs up for Cheryl Holt.

Hostile Makeover by Wendy Wax

I liked the humor in Wendy Wax's 7 Days and 7 Nights, so I thought I'd take a look at this one. Well, I didn't enjoy it as much as I had hoped. Shelley is a spoiled JAP working for Daddy. Daddy decides to retire and she is at the mercy of the new president Ross. Ross gives her the bottom of the barrell clients in, what she perceives, an attempt to get her out of the company. They argue for the entire book until they admit they are in love on literally the last page.

I thought I might really like this one, because you so rarely read books about Jewish H/Hs. Now I know why. This was full of stereotypical Jewish mothers, aunts, cousins, etc. Maybe if the story was set in New York I'd believe it, but Atlanta? Puleeze. I have never had a conversation like those in this book in my life, and I'm pretty sure I'm Jewish LOL. And the heroine is so dead set against a Jewish guy that when she finds out the hero is Jewish, she dumps him, even though she loves him.

I was also disappointed that we never get to see the story from the Ross' POV. It reminds me of the way Harlequin romances used to be 20 years ago, when the story was only what the woman felt. I love that romances have come a long way since then, and the hero's thoughts and feelings aare as integral to the stories as the heroine's. But this boook was hard to get into because it didn't give both perspectives. All in all, a very disappointing read. Thumbs down.

Jill Shalvis' Firemen Series

This series consisted of White Heat, Blue Flame and Seeing Red. All three standalone stories came highly recommended (thank you Anne). All three feature hero firefighters that are mouth-watering gorgeous. Along with beautiful, strong heroines suffering just the right does of vulnerability (that only our hero can see). I won’t set up the plots or conflicts for you here. Trust me, they were all good.

It was an excerpt from Seeing Red that first lodged Jill Shalvis’ name in a corner of my brain. In it (the excerpt, not my brain), the H and H meet again after many years—a reunion under dark circumstances and fraught with unspoken past hurts. The excerpt ended with the heroine walking away feeling completely, utterly alone. That got me.

So I read this one first. And loved it. Ditto for the other two. What surprised me however, given the pre-conceived notions planted by that excerpt—was how “light” these characters felt. At times. In more than one fleeting glimpse, I saw each of these characters as emotionally shallow.

  • The heroes were of the darkly attractive and quietly powerful ilk, BUT both ‘qualities’ paled next to their humor and misfit status. Shalvis is not afraid to put our hero in embarrassing situations—witness Jake as the ill-equipped, I’m-a-bit-of-a-baby ranch hand.

  • The heroines were independent and spirited, BUT also slave to mildly debilitating and inexplicable mood swings. Like when Summer moves from anxiety/panic attack to light-hearted flirt to impetuous brat (when her offer of gratuitous sex is denied) in the space of minutes.

  • Finally—and more to my point—every one of these characters wore their heart on their sleeve. That right there made them seem just a little immature and a tad masochistic.

    Then it came to me. Not immature. Not shallow. Just more real. And very unlike the leading characters I’m accustomed to—the ones who never show their public the ‘irrational’ side of emotion.

    Shalvis managed to bring it all to the table—all the ‘alpha’ traits I like in a hero, the smarts I like in a heroine and an emotional unruliness that put them right in my world. Thankfully for Shalvis’ characters, their inability to control or deny their own emotions opens the door for more than just rejection and utter humiliation. It opened the door for happy endings.

    It is important to note that none of this perceived ‘lightness’ detracted from these books. Nor did it diminish the depth of the emotional issues that required untangling. It simply gave me—one reader—the sense that these characters sometimes wallowed in emotional turmoil that anyone could see was for naught. Just a little annoying (mostly because it fell too close to home) and enough to leave me with one foot firmly rooted in the real world—preventing complete escapism.

    Will I try to escape with another Shalvis title? You bet. I genuinely liked her voice, characterization and humor. Besides, I’ve decided that--while potentially humiliating--wearing your heart on your sleeve does not have to be the end of the world. Especially once you realize that heart can be trusted to the characters surrounding it.
  • Monday, November 07, 2005

    Hot EC story

    Capturing Carly by NJ Walters

    This is the 3rd book in the Awakening Desires series. I love NJ's writing. Her soft, wonderful, lovely personality always comes through in her characters. Somehow, you just feel more with her books than with many other authors. This book focuses on Nathan and Carly, who got engaged at the end of book 2, Erin's Fancy. I love that she wrote a book about them, because so often, a couple gets engaged and you never hear from them again. This is the story of the time they got engaged to their wedding. All the doubts and worries about inadequacies we all have are on display here. Nathan is an alpha to die for. Gorgeous, sexy, dominant, yet loving and tender and caring at the same time. And Carly holds her own with him, not an easy feat. She is the one woman who can bring this sexy deputy (yes, another man in uniform, LOL) to his knees. And, holy mother of..., this book is H. O. T. *fanning self* Phew! I needed an ice bath by the time I was through.

    NJ Walters is one of my favorite EC authors. She writes a hot sexy book full of characters with warmth and caring. I cannot wait for Jackson's story. A definite thumbs up.

    Sunday, November 06, 2005

    Another military romance...

    Code of Honor by Catherine Mann

    OK, are you sensing a theme with me lately? Here is another military/CIA/men in uniform action packed romance. I love Catherine Mann. IMO, she is the next Suzanne Brockmann. I actually had the chance to meet her at RWA and am on a couple loops with her. She is a terrific person and a wonderful author. So, this book has that best friends become lovers theme that I love, but with a serious twist. This one revolves around two couples (their lives are intertwined, but I won't say how - don't want to give it away), a foreign country somewhere in S America, a drug lord, revenge, and a tense, suspenseful rescue, all with an emotional back story to boot. Oh yeah, and loads of hot sex, too. If you like this type of book, this is another definite thumbs up - a winner!

    The Lady Chosen by Stephanie Laurens

    Ok. I know. Another Laurens book. But Lori and Linda both recommended her Bastion Club series. (I had been lazing in her Cynster books.) I have to say...thank you Ladies. I really, really liked Tristan and Leonora's story.

    Outside of Garwood's medieval Scottland, Laurens' England is my favorite landscape. The added element of intrigue (read sexy, haunted spies) only improves on it. As do the seemingly oblivious scholars and the far-from-unseeing Aunts et al.

    In addition to his sexy spy persona--all that calm power and resolve--I liked Tristan's emotional depth and honesty. I also appreciated and enjoyed the "battle" he waged to win Leonora.

    As for Leonora, she is another of those emotionally strong (methodically so), mature and intelligent heroines I enjoy most. It was a delight watching as she finally "allowed" herself to love and to let another love her.

    This was a good one.

    Thursday, November 03, 2005

    Just read...

    Close-Up by Virginia Kantra

    Men in uniform, undercover agents, spies, I love these types of books. This one is another action packed read. The FBI director's daughter gets kidnapped by a right-wing religious culty-type group (think Branch Davidians and David Koresh). Of course, Mom & Dad are so wrapped up in their own worlds, they don't even notice she is gone. She escapes and runs into Jack, an ex-cop (of course, with issues) there to sneak his sister (married to the cult's crazy leader) away from the cult. Together they get into heaps of trouble, argue a bunch, and fall in love while trying to bring down the cult and avoid another Waco-like incident. This was full of action and adventure. It just manages to avoid being stereotypical, thank goodness. I must say, though, that it bothered me that Lexie wouldn't tell Jack who she was. For her everything is about trust, and so this didn't ring quite true once their relationship was going strong. I got over it, though. If you like the action/adventure/survival type story (think Cherry Adair, but not as good), this is a thumbs up.

    Wednesday, November 02, 2005

    All About Passion by Stephanie Laurens

    Soothing. That is how I found this book.

    I’ve admitted previously that I can’t read Laurens’ Cynster novels one after another, given the similarity in prose. But in reading All About Passion, I was reminded that—despite some repeated descriptions—each of these stories are unique to me. Particularly this one.

    Yes; there was the “heroine in danger” element. But instead of building the tale around the mystery, Laurens’ central focus remains on the burgeoning love affair between the H and H. I found it sweet and not altogether predictable.

    Also different was the manner in which the H / H come to be married. This was an arranged marriage from the start. It was not a case of “hero tangles with heroine, then autocratically decides she must become his wife.” This H and H are fully engaged in building a relationship. Calmly.

    At present, I am miserably sick AND PMS’ing. My feelings get hurt when the wind blows. In this mindset, All About Passion was the perfect remedy. A simple love story between a man who believes himself incapable of love and an intelligent, patient woman who does not spend every moment in peril or despair. In a word, All About Passion was soothing.

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