Sunday, January 22, 2006

Black Ice by Anne Stuart

It feels like it took me a year to get my hands on this book. Of my many TBR lists, this title fell on one compiled from other reader reviews (i.e. Rosario, et al). Every review, every mention caught my attention and held it. Only problem was in locating the book. I live rurally (pix below) and, unlike in the city, am unable to run out and pick up a specific title right when the urge hits me. So the urge usually passes, I record title and author on a list and move on.

This one kept nagging me. And when I saw mention of its dark hero again last week, I couldn't take it anymore. I ordered it online and had it in my hands in days. At last.


Living paycheck to paycheck in Paris, American book translator Chloe Underwood would give anything for some excitement and passion--even a little danger. So when she's offered a lucrative weekend gig translating at a business conference in a remote chateau, she jumps at the chance to shake things up.

Then by chance Chloe discovers her employers are anything but the entrepreneurs they appear, and suddenly she knows far too much. Her clients are illegal arms dealers, and one of them is ordered to kill her. But instead, Bastien Toussaint drags Chloe away, and the next thing she knows she's on the run with the most terrifying and seductive man she's ever met.

What were his motives--and would she live long enough to find out?

This hero is indeed dark. But Stuart portrays him honestly and without apology. It is the frankness with which she introduces Bastien that triggered my senses and kept me guessing until the end. The potential for him to be evil incarnate did not turn me from the story. Instead, it compelled me to keep watching him and waiting, page after page. That his own core is unknown even to him is fascinating. It is also what makes the story believable. Had Stuart given us a patent explanation for Bastien's actions, I would have been disappointed. Thankfully, Stuart chose to unearth his conscious silently--through impulse and instinct--with a destination known only to Stuart. "Page turner" doesn't begin to describe the pace of this story.

I liked the heroine as well; and thought her worthy of Bastien's obsession. I'll admit to find her a bit immature at moments, but really, Stuart paints her as close to the truth as I can tell. I imagine torture, terror and desperation give license to the occasional lapse in composure.

Just as she did with Bastien's motivation, Stuart reveals little in the telling of Bastien and Chloe's love affair. When it ultimately overcomes them, the reader is sucked under with the same force. I felt it. Sigh. I just love a romance where emotion runs as a current, under and through each scene, never overtly recognized or acknowledged until it sucks you under, changes the course of the story, ...and every other metaphor you can think of here.

Great read. My thanks to Anne Stuart.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

He Said.... the Gentleman's Club Series

I have been totally broke since the holidays, so spent my time rereading some old favorites. Patricia Waddell's Gentleman's Club historical series is wonderful. It's about a group of men, their lives and loves. The ties between the books come from the friendship of 5 men, and their weekly card game with the Duke of Morland, who was a friend to all their fathers. An interesting twist, one unfotunately too seldom seen, to see these men all truly respecting the older man, and displaying signs of true friendship and comeraderie throughout the entire series. So, without further ado...

He Said Yes... This, really the 2nd (the first was a short in an anthology that, actually, I never read, but you don't need to read it to begin with this 1st full length), is a story about the Marquis of Waltham, Marshall. He is looking for a long term relationship, although has no intention of marrying. So, a mistress it will be, but he is sick of the "scene" and wants someone he can truly care about (without marrying her, of course). He meets Evelyn Dennsworth. She works in a dressshop, she's the daughter of a pastor, and has been arrested and accused of theft. He feels drawn to her and can't help but exert his standing in society to assist her in clearing herself of the charges. The description of Evelyn's feelings as she goes to trial is remarkable, you really feel the terror and shame right along with her. Marshall takes her home to his estate under the guise of being a companion to his stepmother, who has recently lost her husband, Marshall's father. You can guess the rest.

What is wonderful about this book is the depth of character development - Waddell doesn't shy away from the agonizing feelings of despondence and guilt for going on without your true love (his father's was truly a love match). In many ways, this is really Evelyn and Constance's (the stepmother) story. How Evelyn unselfishly draws Constance out of her shell of grief is beautifully and sensitively written. Marshall's precocious 10 year old half-sister is a wonderful character, full of life and love for her family - no spoiled villains in this family.

Marshall is also truly unselfish, loving his stepmother and wanting her to be whole again. He understands her grief, because he, too, loved his father completely and without reservation. She does not miraculously recover from losing her husband of 20 years. Her descent into grief and laborious climb out of its depths is emotional for all the characters, and therefore to the reader as well.

There is not a false moment, a false feeling or emotion in this book. Although he wants Evelyn for his mistress, he firmly believes she is the right person to be Constance's companion. Watching the love and depth of feeling unfold between Marshall and Evelyn is wonderful as well. Their strength and passion and character are well portrayed. Waddell doesn't rush these feelings, and gives them time to develop. As the reader, by the time I knew they were truly in love, I had totally bought into it. The story is believably, beautifully written. Highly recommended.

He Said No... This is the story of the Earl of Granville. On a trip to the country, he is nearly overrun (or run over) by Catherine, who is racing on a horse that he discovers he would do almost anything to have. As payment for the near accident, he demands a kiss. He then goes to her house to visit her father, a well respected horse breeder to see if he can purchase the horse that Catherine was riding. Naturally, he is invited to stay.

Catherine is high-spirited, not wanting to be married, after seeing how her two best friends became miserable in their marriages. She is constantly challenging Norton - in spirit and in fact. After each run-in, he demands a kiss. They run into trouble when they race and Norton is injured. As he recuperates, Catherine is overcome with guilt and goes to his room to apologize and see if she can help. Naturally, he demands another kiss, and this time it gets out of hand. They are caught and forced into an engagement. Catherine fights this tooth and nail, not wanting to see Norton change after marriage, as her friend's husbands did.

They don't marry immediately, Catherine trying to find a way out, but soon she finds herself seduced into the marriage. As they discover more about each other, their hopes, dreams, and fears, they fall in love.

This book is lighter in tone than He Said Yes, with loads of humor scattered throughout. It is not quite as satisfying a read as He Said Yes, but is enjoyable nonetheless.

He Said Now... This book is another serious one, with a hero who suffers from a case of PTSD after the Crimean war, and a strong, self-sufficient heroine determined to discover his secrets and help him through it. Fitch, our hero, discovers he has a daughter, conceived on a last night of play before he goes off to war. Lizzie, his nine year old daughter is under the guardianship of Hilary, who was a close friend of her mother's (now deceased). Hilary finds Fitch to tell him about Lizzie, and doesn't think he'll want anything to do with her. Fitch discovers that Lizzie is a delight and he wants to spend as much time with her as possible. Fitch and Hilary embark on a marriage of convenience to best care for Lizzie.

Waddell once again displays the beautiful writing that she employed in He Said Yes, writing Fitch's journey of self-dis-covery and re-covery in a sensitive, thoughtful manner. Although he participates fully in their marriage, being a warm and caring husband and father, he holds a piece of himself distant - the soldier who saw too much bloodshed and heartache on the bloody battlefields of war and holds secrets too horrendous to share. The more his emotions become engaged with Hilary, the more he holds himself back, believing himself to be not a whole being any longer, and therefore unworthy of a true, honest, loving relationship. Waddell draws him beautifully, as his true character comes out in many ways - a fun, loving father, and a warm, tender lover and husband. When a friend and fellow soldier commits suicide and leaves his diary to Fitch, he withdraws more and more into his memories as he reads through it.

The dichotomy of character that many war veterans display is fully explored here, one minute loving the next minute angry and sullen. Waddell ventures into the early world of psychiatry as well, when Hilary seeks the help of a cutting edge physician who treats soldiers with PTSD (of course it wasn't called that). Her unselfish, undying support of Fitch as he travels this journey is heartfelt and true. She wants him to heal not just for the health of their marriage, but so that he can be truly happy and emotionally healthy once again. This is the second book I've read with a hero who is a veteran of the Crimean war (the other being the powerful and poignant England's Perfect Hero by Suzanne Enoch, which I can't recommend highly enough). It seems that was a particularly bloody and horrific war for the British. Waddell, as does Enoch, beautifully and accurately portrays the many faces of PTSD and its consequences for not only the veteran, but his family as well. Highly recommended.

He Said Never... The last in the series, this is the story of the Viscount Rathbone, as he faces unexpected love, unheralded teasing from his buddies, and a surprise twist at the end. He is certainly the wildest of the bunch, going from woman to woman, creating quite a rakish reputation for himself, vowing never to marry. He finds Prudence Tamhill, the ward of a duke, out and about in after dark alone. He delivers her safely home (after stealing several kisses from her, of course), then pursues her relentlessly in order to win a bet with some friends (not our circle of friends in the series). This bet has him in her room in the middle of the night attempting to steal a ring she was supposed to give him in "friendship" as proof of his win. She, of course, wakes up, and they are soon discovered in a compromising position.

He has watched his friends one by one succumb to love and marriage and children, and when he is caught in Prudence's bed (they didn't actually "do it"), he agrees to marry her; actually, he insists on it, but Prudence is unaware of that, believing he was forced as much as she. He soon discovers he is quite happy with his situation, and looks forward to marriage to Prudence. Prudence has discovered through her mother's diary that she is not the product of her mother's marriage, but the product of an affair with the true love of her mother's life. They soon get caught up in Prudence's mysterious search for her father, which leads them all over England. During their travels, they fall in love.

This was the most stereotypical of the series, although still a delightful read. It conforms to the usual "boy meets girl, boy compromises girl, boy marries girl, boy and girl fall in love" scenario, but that didn't really diminish my enjoyment of the book. If I didn't like that formula, I wouldn't be such a fan of historicals, apparently. But I digress. During the course of the book, Prudence learns more about her mother, and her fateful relationship with her father. She learns she is the product of love (I guess that's where the term "love child" comes from *g*), which pleases her immensely, as she was not close with the man who she thought was her father for most of her life. The surprise twist as we find out who her real father is, and the confrontational scene that ensued were flawlessly executed, leaving me smiling and snickering.

So, to wrap it all up with a quote from another reviewer, this is a series of books that are "witty and sensual romances with heroes you could fall for and heroines you can respect." It is thoroughly enjoyable to revisit all the other couples from the series. Waddell carries their friendships throughout each book, complete with the weekly card game with the Duke, where the men have to explain themselves if they are absent. It's a blast to watch these otherwise confident, take-no-prisoners men quiver in their boots when they discuss facing the duke if they don't show up for a game. There is also a fun twist where the friends recognize and acknowledge that it seems whoever serves as the best man in their friend's wedding seems to be the next one to the altar. The scene in Fitch's book where Benjamin (Rathbone) very reluctantly agrees to be the best man is hilarious - a light note in an otherwise serious story. In fact, they are all quite reluctant to serve as best man, knowing they might be next, giving a fun twist to what should be an honor for a close friend.

I like the fact that none of these couples immediately falls in love - Waddell takes the time to build their relationships within believable timeframes within each story. I really enjoyed this series. I'll confess that knowing the final twist the second time around did lessen my enjoyment of the ending of the final book just a smidge, but it didn't truly bother me. The books are well written and complete enough that I enjoyed them the second time almost as much as the first.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Full Ride by Gail Faulkner - SPOILERS

I read Full Ride by Gail Faulkner nearly two weeks ago. Upon reading the last page, I promptly sent her an email. It read like this:


I'll need to let it all sink down to my bones before I can do it justice with a public reader review.

Bleep bleep Gail.

Jennifer B, needs to rest now

Then I left her hanging; with no response for a week. Can you say RUDE?

So, before I start, my apologies again Gail.

As for Full Ride, it was not at all what I expected. Having read SlipKnot, the second in this series, I assumed the storyline would follow a special ops scenario with an agent hero protecting a heroine in either a victim role or perhaps the role of perpetrator. I enjoyed this theme in SlipKnot and assumed its precursor was a similar tale featuring one of Rem’s teammates.

In addition to that expectation, I should also note that I did not categorize Full Ride as BDSM. Of course I never looked it up either. I just gathered bits of information about it via the Ellora’s Cave reader / author loop. Earlier this month, when readers began discussing their favorite BDSM reads, I was surprised to see Full Ride listed in the collective recommendations. I had it on my TBR list, so I read it.


BDSM. Yep. Portrayed for what it is. Right from the start. My eyes were bulging by page two. I’m a reluctant fan of BDSM. A fan because I do find domination intensely erotic. Reluctant because I so rarely find a book that places its characters in such intimate and vulnerable scenes with grace and believability. Faulkner accomplishes this quite cleverly in Full Ride. In large part because she starts the story by inviting readers to witness a night of BDSM contracted and carried out by two strangers. It was not difficult to accept their behavior, and for me, that is more than half the battle.

The story of a relationship. Instead of drawing readers into a tale of special ops intrigue, Faulkner gives us a black ops hero, back stateside and trying to move forward with his life. Full Ride is the story of how this hero, Gray, connects with the heroine, Prin. And where that connection takes them. Watching it unfold, the reader is privy only to those emotions and insecurities each character is able to reveal. Faulkner keeps this emotional focus, engaging the reader without cluttering the tale with mystery or other typical special ops plot devices.

The connection. My biggest criticism of erotic romance is that it so often fails to bring two characters—who engage in scorching sex—together emotionally. I am so rarely convinced of any real emotional or spiritual connection—a connection that is an absolute must if we are to believe the physical relationship. In Full Ride, Faulkner employs a wonderful and surprising medium to establish the first thread of communication between Gray and Prin. I loved it. I was enchanted and eagerly made the leap to believing it. I was equally impressed by Faulkner’s refusal to bank the emotional relationship on this exchange alone. Instead, she made these two work to reach each other; to give of themselves willingly to each other.

The threat. Like I said. Faulkner does not employ any plot devices one would expect in a story featuring a special ops hero. She does, however, deliver a very human, very emotional threat to the couple’s happiness and future. One I only began to suspect near the story’s end. Again, bucking stereotypes and tired storylines, Faulkner introduces and dispatches of the threat without offending the readers’ intelligence. She uses this twist only to cement what is a fragile hold on happiness—drawing readers deeper into the magic of Gray and Prin’s bond.

I liked every surprise, every facet of Full Ride. I thought it clever, unique—even mystical. I also found it further evidence that readers can count on Gail Faulkner to touch them—the highest praise I can offer.

Thank you Gail.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Always seem to be coming from behind

I never intended for this blog to take on a digest format. But, here I go again—summarizing books read more than a week ago. Consumed under duress and only now (vaguely) recollected.

Lady Sophia’s Lover and Then Came You by Lisa Kleypas

Working my way through Kleypas’ backlist. I read these two plus 4 other books in the span of 3 days. Of the 6, both Kleypas titles stand out. I particularly liked LSL—and having read Nick Gentry’s story (Worth Any Price) before this one, I experienced LSL as I would a prequel. The only quibble I have is with the characterization of Ross. I wasn’t wholly convinced this was the same person I was introduced to in Someone To Watch Over Me and then revisited in Worth Any Price. In both of those later titles, Ross is depicted as a much harsher man. In his own story, I looked forward to seeing how Kleypas would dismantle his defenses to let a woman in. What I found however, was a man who seemed more than ready to accept another woman into his life; I don’t recall much resistance. It wasn’t a letdown in any sense, just not what I expected.

I’m pretty sure I skimmed Then Came You. Thinking back to how this book affected me, I don’t recall being tugged into the story. Instead, I recall not liking either the hero or heroine very much. Thinking back on the storyline however, I have to say it was very much my cup of tea. I like the whole woman out of control, burdened beyond understanding thing; and the relatively silent (read misunderstood or unknown), controlling alpha that simply commandeers her and her problems. Reminds me just slightly of SEP’s To Kiss An Angel. At any rate, I’ll admit to liking this one, but recognize that I really need to go back and READ it front to back—no skipping around or skimming.

A Lady of His Own by Stephanie Laurens

Also working through this author’s backlist. Of the 6 titles I read, this one provided the most potent escape. It was the first Laurens I’d read in awhile and I was reminded of how much I like her characters, their dialogue, and their actions. I let everything go and just enjoyed living in their world for the duration. This one, another in the Bastion Club series, was excellent. I enjoyed every single aspect.

Much Ado About You by Eloisa James

I’ve been a longtime fan of Eloisa James, but had yet to begin this series. In fact, the last James title I read was Midnight Pleasures, published in 2001. I’ve been meaning to catch up with her work for a while. Having read Much Ado About You, I can safely say I still enjoy this author. However, because my discovery of other historical romance authors like Laurens and Kleypas has changed my expectations somewhat, I was not as bowled over as I recalled being by James’ Potent Pleasures or Midnight Pleasures. James’ characters stick very much to socially acceptable behavior—to the point of driving the reader near nuts. Their staunch refusal to run headlong into anything “inappropriate” gave the women the appearance of being weaker, less smart. The same reluctance in the men left me feeling like they were not as strong, not as “alpha”, as I would have liked. All in all, I found myself more annoyed then enamored.

To Love A Man by Karen Robards

This one was lying about the waiting room ‘library’. It was a fast, relatively predictable read. Very 80’s, although I’m not exactly sure when it was published. The connection between hero and heroine was a disconnect for me—not for a minute could I believe that a woman experiencing such trauma—physical and emotional—would just roll over and do the first man she opens her eyes to. I kept reading though, because I was out of my own books. It wasn’t a total loss really; just not a book I would hold onto for more than a few minutes.

For The Roses by Julie Garwood

Another book lying about. This is the only Garwood book I’ve NOT read previously. It was good. I’m glad I had opportunity to read it. I will say however, that nothing—including this title—compares to the Scottish Laird takes English bride stories that made me fall in love with Garwood. If anything, reading For The Roses served to remind me that I’m about due to re-read The Secret again.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Just have to say...

I'm not going to review it, because Jen did such an amazing job, what else is there to say? Nothing could top her review. But, I just finished Midnight Rose by Shelby Reed. I have nothing to say but WOW. What a fabulous book. Oh, and if you haven't read it yet, go get it NOW! Thank you, Jen, for writing such a fabulous review - I might never have picked this book up without it. Your word is evermore gospel. I bow to your 'discerning readership'. Thanks again!

Notable and not so notable reads of the last 3 weeks

I’m going to prattle on for some time here so you may wish to freshen up your coffee...

Notable Reads

Tempting The Beast by Lora Leigh

Well-written. Strong characterization. Provocative. Lora Leigh is an author I trust, unequivocally, to deliver powerful, compelling stories. This one was no exception. However, I have resigned myself to an insurmountable, not to be overcome aversion to even the hint of sex with animals. My mind cannot view any character as part human, part animal without unconsciously—and unavoidably—attaching the greatest emphasis on the animal. That, in turn, colors every exchange between that character and others. I don’t know what the problem is, but if Lora Leigh cannot move me beyond it, I’m not sure any author can (save one perhaps; we’ll see when the time comes). Unfortunately, this means that I will not be reading the remainder of Leigh’s Breed series.

Heather’s Gift by Lora Leigh

Again, Leigh delivers a well-written book featuring strong characterization and a provocative storyline. The third, I believe, in her August men series, its controversial and disturbing premise is at once beyond comprehension and thoroughly captivating. You cannot look away. How can Leigh elicit my understanding, make me believe and even empathize with brothers driven to share their wives? No idea. But she does. And interestingly, the dark sexual needs exhibited by the men in this series remind me a little of Shannon McKenna’s alphas. But McKenna’s books—with their monogamous, ‘acceptable’ relationships—fail me. Completely. And Leigh’s books—this series with its jaw-dropping premise—works for me. Testament, I think, to Leigh’s ability to change the reader’s reality (the whole animal thing aside).

Finders Keepers by Sharon Sala

This is a contemporary love story. No mystery or romantic suspense. It is the stuff of what I call “do-over or second chance daydreams”—the ‘if my circumstances changed and I had to start over, what could happen’ story. I enjoyed it immensely. Being the mother of a toddler boy myself, it is this aspect of the story (our hero is a single father to a 3 year old boy) that I liked most. Sala paints a realistic (read humorous) picture of what it means to parent a fast-growing, ever-learning individual. Her H and H are also quite realistic—both distracted by professional and life responsibilities. The villain—an ‘ex’ so to speak—is a bit over the top and Sala’s stilted or altogether omitted transitions from scene to scene, chapter to chapter bounced me from the story a few times. But overall, it was a warm, engaging read. One I would recommend when you are in need of something soft and easy.

Scarlet Stockings by Mary Wine

I liked everything about this short, holiday novella. Wine focuses the reader’s attention on a single aspect of this married couple’s relationship, allowing us to watch and listen to the characters through a narrow gap in the curtains. That focus translates into successful characterization that is not burdened by any need for detailed background or lengthy descriptions of past experiences. It allows the reader to enjoy the exchanges between these two today. And they are enjoyable. Scarlet Stockings is well written, charming, humorous and truthful—to marriage and married sex in its time period (Frontier West). I will certainly try more titles from Mary Wine.

Not So Notable Reads

Dream On by Jaci Burton

I found this short story very sweet and romantic. Unfortunately, I did not find it well written or executed. I loved the premise and enjoyed what I felt was the “start” of getting to know these characters. Before I could be pulled into the story however, it dropped out from underneath me. Honestly, I felt like I was reading the story’s outline with just a hint of flesh on it—like Burton temporarily inserted sweeping generalizations here and impotent clichés there with some intention of coming back later to develop the thought. It felt underdeveloped from beginning to end.

Christmas To Remember by Annie Windsor

I also found this book sweet and romantic with an entertaining dose of humorous antics. And I appreciated the Christmas fantasy—a very sexy, adult take on the magic of St. Nick. But I could not get beyond the skimpy characterization. I didn’t relate, recognize or even develop a decent impression of any one of this book’s characters. Consequently, their actions lacked believability or truthfulness and I fell out of the story completely.

Special Agent Santa by Denise Agnew

This holiday short featured a seriously over-used premise in erotic romance—one I happen to like when done well. It features an alpha in law enforcement and a woman he is acquainted with through work. There is the requisite attraction—the one that has been growing between these two since before the book’s introduction—and the very brief turmoil each suffers before finally revealing their passion for the other. It also includes the “I’ve been watching you and I can “see” –through some preternatural sense—your desire for sexual domination” phenomenon. That sarcasm, I’m sure, betrays my feelings about this particular approach to tie-me-up sex in a romance book. I don’t believe it and don’t care for it. And, having read some truly remarkable stories—both long and short—in this genre, I don’t believe for a minute that this is the only workable premise for hot, 18 and over sex.

A side note about this particular title: I read a professional review of Special Agent Santa wherein the reviewer stated her appreciation for the story’s twist. I actually re-read this story to find the twist or unexpected turn of events. Didn’t find it. I then polled another reader. She didn’t recall a twist either. I emailed the reviewer about it directly. She never responded. Left to draw my own conclusions, I can only assume she did not read it. Or, if she did, she did so quickly and in the company of a dozen other holiday shorts—ultimately confusing elements from another with this one. In either case, it appears a gross disservice to the author and publisher. And is worthy of a disdainful rant in another blog.

Holiday Bound by Jaci Burton

This holiday short from Jaci Burton also travels the one-step path to tie-me-up sex between the lawman and his colleague. However, Burton employs a much more believable venue by which the characters learn of each other’s sexual fantasies. It was good in that sense. But again, where I found stronger characterization in this Burton short, I was still plagued by a lack of development. Burton maneuvers around a very thought-provoking, socially relevant issue without doing it any disservice. But I just wanted more in the way story depth.

Relevant Footnote

I think it a remarkable challenge to create a fully developed romance in a novella or quickie (unsure of the proper terminology here). Thus far, the only authors to deliver notable reads in this category have been those that invite readers into an existing romance. Unburdened by the task of establishing a relationship, these authors simply and honestly confirmed the characters’ connections and then deftly involved me as the reader in the emotional conflict at hand. Sarah McCarty did this beautifully in A Bit of Sass. Mary Wine accomplished a similar feat in Scarlet Stocking. And, although not a holiday short, Claire Thompson did the same—through one of the cleverest turn of events I’ve seen—in Closely Held Secrets.

Having read all of McCarty’s work and a good number of Thompson’s titles, I’ll also surmise that very, very strong writing skills are another requisite to pulling this off. Both are extremely powerful writers. And though I’ve not yet read the holiday short from Shelby Reed—another astonishingly talented writer—I’m confident it will deliver as well.

In all, I would like to think that those shorts that failed would not have done so if delivered in full length. I’ll likely try some longer tales from those authors just to see.

Super Relevant Footnote

I am not an author of fiction. I will allow myself the title of discerning reader however. Whatever. Just digest my commentary with that in mind.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Seduction by Nicole Jordan

Help, I'm in a historical rereading frenzy and I can't get out! They are just so darn good. But after this book, I am onto Midnight Rose, thanks to Jen's amazing review... and I'm not even that big a vamp fan! Ok... onward.

The Seduction is the first in a long line of books in the Notorious series. This is the story of Damien Sinclair, "Lord Sin". His sister, Olivia, has a terrible accident at the hands of Vanessa's brother. Vanessa winds up acting as Olivia's companion, and, in his own act of revenge/justice, Damien's mistress. The story really delves into the immediate friendship that Damien and Vanessa share, the respect unwittingly built between them, and their attempts to deny the feelings they have by sabotaging the relationship, each in their own way.

Once again, there is lots of seedy sex in the brothels of London (those boys from the Hellfire League are wicked!), and very little in the way of ballrooms, sans one country ball, although both characters are members of the aristocracy. Nicole Jordan does a great job in her characterization of Damien, especially, showing well his bewilderment and his unnerving (is that a word?) with the changes he feels taking place within himself. Vanessa is a woman trying to save her sisters from the same type of loveless marriage she was forced into. She agrees to Damien's terms and is astounded at the feelings he arouses in her (no pun intended... or was it?). She expects to hate him and finds herself drawn to him through long sincere talks held late at night in her bedchamber. For a better summary, read Nicole Jordan's synopsis. (And make sure to scroll down the Seduction webpage and read her excerpts, too! Especially wonderful! I love her web site!)

I really like that before this couple has sex, they have become friends, and developed a mutual respect for each other. The fact that they then have hot, wild, beautiful, monkey sex is made all the better because of their intense feelings for one another, although they would each deny it to the death (the little death, that is...). If it were only that easy, a million authors would be out of work and books would only be 50 pages long. So of course, neither is happy with the turn of affairs (so to speak) and they each sabotage the relationship, something it appears Damien is an expert at. How he comes around to being comfortable with his reformation (aren't reformed rakes the best? everyone says so...) is really the crux of Damien's story, and coming to terms with wanting a not-so-perfect man is Vanessa's story. There is also a really well written back story about Olivia coming to terms with the results of her accident and how she and her true love find their way back together again.

I have read all the books in this series (several times) and not been disappointed by a single one. Highly recommended.

Monday, January 02, 2006

The Highland Lords Series by Karen Ranney

Well, Nicole insisted I read this series, as it is one of her all-time favorites. Scottish historicals have never been on my all-time favorites or even close. Not sure why, but there it is. Well, Nicole, I thank you. This was a wonderful series. Now, I'm not terribly eloquent, so here's just a quick synopsis of each one of the books about the MacRae's...

Book 1: One Man's Love - This is the story of Alec and Leitis. They are childhood friends in Scotland and meet again when Alec returns as a British soldier to fight the Scottish. Beautifully written, and beautiful characters. You really feel for Alec and his torn loyalties (being half Scottish and half English). This one got me hooked into the series. The rest of the books are all about their 5 sons. Read the synopsis here.

Book 2: When the Laird Returns - this one focuses on Alisdair, the oldest son of Alec and Leitis. It deals with old clan rivalries and power struggles. Read the synopsis here.

Book 3: The Irrisistable MacRae - this is James' story. The storytelling here is remarkable. I loved watching James and Riona fall in love - every feeling was so well written that I felt like I was falling in love right along with them. Read the synopsis.

Book 4: To Love a Scottish Lord - this is a majorly powerful story about Hamish, the middle son. This is a passionate and compassionate book about learning to accept and heal. The fourth son, Brendan, also falls in love in this one, though his story is the secondary one. Read the synopsis.

Book 5: So in Love - this is the youngest son, Douglas' story. Like his father's story, this is about finding lost loves and forgiveness. It brings the entire series full circle, both in that theme, and including scenes with the entire family - all the brothers and their wives and children. Read the synopsis.

I would have to say that the 4th book was my favorite. Hamish's story is so powerful, and written so beautifully that you can feel his anguish and agony in every page. Mary is the perfect match for him. I love how Ranney brings all the characters back in each book with an update on how they are doing. It wouldn't make sense for the brothers not to appear in each other's books, since the family is so close. It's good to see old faces from the previous books (with the exception of the last book - I was a tad disappointed in one of the outcomes - won't say which as I don't want to spoil it). You truly get the feeling over the course of the 5 books that this is a family that loves one another and would do anything for each other. Ranney's description of the family's ancestral home (especially in book 1) makes you see it clearly, and her characterizations of the brothers remain consistent and complete throughout all the books. And the villain that reappears completely unexpectedly in book 5 caught me by surprise. But it made perfect sense.

Although not a sub-genre of historical that I would pick up on my own, I'm so glad that this series was recommended to me. Thanks Nicole!
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