Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Crossroads Cafe by Deborah Smith

Heartbroken and cynical, famed actress Cathryn Deen hides from the world after a horrific accident scars her for life.
Secluded in her grandmother’s North Caroline mountain home, Cathryn at first resists the friendship of the local community and the famous biscuits served up by her loyal cousin, Delta, at The Crossroads Café, until a neighbor, former New York architect Thomas Mitternich, reaches out to her.
Thomas lost his wife and son in the World Trade Center. In the years since he’s struggled with alcohol and despair. He thinks nothing and no one can make his life worth living again.
Until he meets Cathryn.

It’s such a delight to read a book with so many characters that are so fully drawn. This isn’t just Cathy and Thomas’s story, it’s also about the land and the people who live there. Smith has written a funny and deeply moving story that has characters who will stay with me a long time. Sometimes it was a funny exchange between characters, or the metaphor of making biscuits that turn out right, or the pain of wanting to fix someone who isn’t ready to be fixed. This is definitely a romance but ever so much more. I laughed and cried, but I smiled a lot.

Normally, I’m not much for “reading guides”, but some of the questions at the end of the book were thought provoking. “Do you feel that your looks – good, bad or ordinary – have played a major part in shaping your life? How?” Now considering this book’s heroine was a beautiful woman whose whole life had revolved around her beauty before she was burned, this question seemed perfectly natural. But it’s a good question anyway.

I guess it’s official, I’m a fangirl of Deborah Smith. So far, there hasn’t been a book of hers that I haven’t LOVED. There’s so much depth to the characters, I hate to leave them. I give this an A+.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Chasing Stanley by Deirdre Martin

Well, it took this one to pull me out of my reviewing slump. I try really hard not to post negative reviews. Y'all know that. But I had to say something about this book. And I'm not really quite sure what to say about it. Except this. I really wanted to like this book. I really did. I loved Martin's first book. I liked her second book. I reluctantly liked The Penalty Box. But I don't know why I continue to read books about Jewish heroines. It's like I'm on a continuous quest to find a book that doesn't totally stereotype either the heroine or her family. Yet at the same time, something keeps me reading. And I apologize in advance for the rant that is sure to come, because we try very hard not to make this blog a forum for our personal views. So, having said all that...

Delilah Gould is a painfully shy dog trainer who meets and falls in love with Jason Mitchell, one of those hunky hockey players that Martin is so fond of writing. Jason hires her to train his Newf, who is himself a supporting character. Along the way, we meet Jason's over-confident twin (also a hockey player), Delilah's gay best friend (didn't we see this in the last book?), both families, and a host of teammates and old couples from past books.

What I liked: I liked that Jason wasn't your typical stuck-up athlete. He seemed very down-to-earth, and very sweet. He did have a few (ok, several) dumb jock moments, but that is to be expected when reading a book about, well... jocks. I loved that he beat the crap out of his teammate for calling Delilah a derogatory name. He stood up for her not just out of principle, but because he honestly couldn't believe what came out of his teammate's mouth.

Martin did try very hard not to make Delilah into your stereotypical Jewish heroine. She wasn't a JAP, but she did have very stereotypical parents. Why can't there just be normal Jewish families out there?

What I didn't like: I practically peed in my pants and keeled over when I read the word "kike" in this book. One of Jason's teammates is an anti-Semite, and called Jason a Kike-lover, as well as spouting every other stereotype in the book. I wonder if Martin realizes that were this a book about African-Americans, she couldn't have gotten away with calling the hero an "N"-lover. Her editor would have drawn the line. To Jews, the "K" word is the same thing. So why is this ok? I almost put the book down right there, but I wanted to see how she resolved the situation.

Sorry to say, Delilah never once stood up for herself with Denny (the teammate). She let Jason do it for her, even when he was rude to her face. It's a difficult situation to be in, but man oh man, she was a doormat. I don't know what else I can say about this, except I'm still utterly floored at the chutzpah displayed by both Martin and Berkley in publishing the racial slur in this book.

Now on to the families. Why are Jewish families so stereotyped? Delilah's family was totally dysfunctional. Her parents were divorced, always yelling at each other. Her mother picked at her, and she was "daddy's little girl". Mom was always concerned with makeup and obsessed with Delilah's weight and appearance. oh, and "Do you have a boyfriend?" Dad is the local TV "Mattress King," complete with the bad toupee and the 20-something girlfriend. Even their names - Mitzi and Sy? Oy. Jason's parents, on the other hand, were loving, normal folks who showed Delilah what a normal functional family should feel like. They embraced her into the family fold, never once seeming to care that their son was dating a girl who would likely raise their grandchildren Jewish. Let me tell you, people, as one who has lived that situation... it matters. (Although Martin did give them laughable names, too, I must admit - Dick and Jane. But she had them acknowledge the silliness of their names right off the bat, of course.) And Jason, of course, was totally thrown by Delilah's family. Freaked out and felt totally sorry for her.

So as I got angrier and angrier about this stereotyping, I began to think about it a bit more. My own hubby felt a bit overwhelmed when he met my family. Jewish families do tend to be a bit... louder?... than other families. And compared to mine, Bob's family is totally laid back and seemingly "normal". So is stereotyping ok? No. Or is it over the top? Yes. I certainly haven't met any Jewish families as crazy freaky as any that I've read about in a romance novel. Yet, I know why she wrote this NY Jewish family the way she did.

I can't give this book a thumbs up. Yet I kept reading. Like watching a train wreck, I had to see what would happen next. Martin's book is no worse than any other book with a Jewish heroine (the K word notwithstanding). I guess I just read it at a time when I was ripe to jump on this topic. Jews are not a freak side show, people (authors, editors, publishers). In fact, they even came first - remember?

So, here's my challenge to all you authors out there. Please... somebody write a book about a H/H who just happen to be Jewish, just like in most novels they happen to not be Jewish. No stereotypes, no loud, obnoxious parents, no dysfunctional Uncle Arthurs or Aunt Selmas. Just normal people falling in love, who go to temple on Friday night instead of church on Sunday morning. Why is that so flipping difficult?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

March's reads...

Books read: 13
Books Reviewed: 1
A: 5
A-: 2
B+: 3
B: 1
B-: 1
C: 1
New-to-me Authors: 1
Contemporary: 9
Hist-Regency Era: 2
Hist-Western American: 2
Romantic Suspense: 2
Straight Romance: 11 (even though many of these had an element of suspense, I'd still categorize them as straight romance)
Print: 13
Ebook: 0
McKettrick's Heart ~~ Linda Lael Miller ~~ B+
No Safe Place ~~ JoAnn Ross ~~ B+
Once and Always ~~ Judith McNaught ~~ A-
All that Glitters ~~ Linda Howard ~~ B-
Mackenzie's Mission ~~ Linda Howard ~~ A
Mackenzie's Mountain ~~ Linda Howard ~~ A
Mackenzie's Magic ~~ Linda Howard ~~ B
A Game of Chance ~~ Linda Howard ~~ A
Catives of the Night ~~ Loretta Chase ~~ C
Never Love a Cowboy ~~ Lorraine Heath ~~ A
Never Marry a Cowboy ~~ Lorraine Heath ~~ A
Close to You ~~ Kathryn Shay ~~ B+

A couple notes:
I promise April is much more diverse. I have read several e-books also this month. I may even get a review up before the end of the month, LOL!

A note about the other two McKettrick books (the new contemp trilogy). I complained that McKettrick's Luck didn't give me the feeling of "connectedness" between the three main guys that the historicals did. The second and third books, McKettrick's Pride & McKettrick's Heart, do a much better job than did McKettrick's Luck - especially Heart. I got a true sense of the history of the three main characters, the feelings of brotherhood (even though they are cousins), and what ties them together. I still prefer the historicals, but the new trilogy got better as it went along.

And my copies of High Country Bride and Shotgun Bride came today, along with Chasing Stanley, Take Me Tonight (Bullet Catchers, No 3), The Naked Earl, and Mistress of Scandal! Woohoo! Already started High Country Bride :)

Now I feel semi-caught up. I still feel guilty I haven't posted any reviews, but I'll let it go and start anew!

Catching up on what I read the last couple of months...

I promised to catch up, and I think I got everything into my spreadsheet, but I wouldn't swear to it. I was working 60 hour weeks all during Feb, March, and up til now. Do NOT ask me where on earth I found the time to do all this reading. Pure escape from my life, I guess. I didn't however, find any time or inclination to write many of these books, although several of them were excellent! I'm too lazy to figure out percentages this month... it's easy when I'm caught up, cause the spreadhseet dfoes it for me, but if I have to go back in time, I'd have to figure it out for myself, and it's 11:15 at night. Simple to do, but SO not gonna happen!

February's reads:

Books read: 13
Books Reviewed: 5
A: 6
A-: 2
B: 3
B-: 2
New-to-me Authors: 4
Contemporary: 6
Hist-Medieval: 1
Hist-Western American: 5
Other: 1
Nonfiction: 1
Time Travel: 1 ( called Sierra's Homecoming a Time Travel, even though it really isn't - I wasn't sure how else to categorize it...)
Romantic Suspense: 3
Straight Romance: 7
Series Romance: 1
Print: 13
Ebook: 0

Kiss Me While I Sleep ~~ Linda Howard ~~ A
As Always, Jack ~~ Emma Sweeney ~~ B
Match Me if You Can ~~ Susan Elizabeth Phillips ~~ A-
McKettrick's Choice ~~ Linda Lael Miller ~~ B+
McKettrick's Luck ~~ Linda Lael Miller ~~ A
Secondhand Bride ~~ Linda Lael Miller ~~ B+
Reckless Love ~~ Elizabeth Lowell ~~ B
Sierra's Homecoming ~~ Linda Lael Miller ~~ B-
Count to Ten ~~ Karen Rose ~~ A
You Can't Hide ~~ Karen Rose ~~ A
Fall From Grace ~~ Kristi Gold ~~ B-
Keegan's Lady ~~ Catherine Anderson ~~ A
Midnight Eyes ~~ Sarah Brophy ~~ A-

Up next, March's reads.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

In The Midnight Rain by Ruth Wind

Great book.


Ellie Connor is a biographer with a special talent for piecing together fragments of the past. Her latest project, though, promises to be her most challenging--and personal. Not only is she researching the life of a blues singer who disappeared mysteriously forty years ago, but Ellie is also trying to find the truth about the parents she never knew. The love child of a restless woman who died young and an anonymous father, Ellie has little to go on but a faded postcard her mother sent from a small, East Texas town--the hometown of her latest subject.


It is there that Ellie meets Blue Reynard, a man with deep roots and wide connections who may help her find answers. With a piercing gaze and cool grin, Blue is as sultry and seductive as the Southern night air. Beneath his charming surface, however, lies as soul damaged by loss. Despite her better judgment, Ellie finds herself irresistibly drawn to Blue's passion--and his pain. But Ellie's been lured by sweet talk and hot kisses before. How can she possibly stay with Blue when every instinct tells her to run?

In The Midnight Rain made it to my TBR list by way of a blogger review sometime a year or more ago. No idea whose, but thank you.

Wind (aka Barbara Samuel) gives us a tortured hero opposite a pragmatic heroine. But instead of following formula to the letter, she bucks the trend and allows the hero to straighten up pretty much on his own. Of course he is motivated by the love of a good woman, but Wind manages to avoid presentation of the heroine as ‘healer’—a role she doesn’t really want. That emotional matter-of-factness appealed to me. In both hero and heroine.

Blue is best described as ‘unexpected’—from both heroine and reader POV. Where Ellie expects a stodgy old professor, she finds a young and handsome playboy. When Ellie suspects him of being a commitment phobe drowning his grief in a bottle, he surprises her with an intelligence and accountability strong enough to offset his flirtatiousness. For readers expecting the damaged hero storyline, Wind downplays the damage and deftly shifts focus to the story’s mystery.

The mystery winds its way throughout the story beautifully. Instead of feeling like plot, it feels more like another character with its own fate—a character making its own way in its own time without the feel of a calculated pace. And the astounding way in which Wind ties that fate or destination to Ellie was unexpected and absolutely perfect.

Ellie is very much a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of person. Wind’s no nonsense characterization of her turns out to be a clever and powerful contrast to the story’s outcome. Ellie is independent, a pretty modern thinker and pragmatic to her core. Watching Wind unravel her—as opposed to the attention we expected her to pay Blue—was interesting. And believable. It was a great show of how emotion—regardless of how ‘controlled’—can overtake even the most self-honest of us.

Wind’s use of music and setting to underscore the emotion of this story is also worthy of mention. Both tie to an overall sense of hope tinged with melancholy. The music, well, it’s the blues. Easy to see how it added feeling. But I do have to say that when the characters are overcome by the music, I thought to myself “she gets it, she really gets it.” The setting, a hot and hazy Texas summer, contributed that ‘never want it to end’ feeling dating back to our school days, the wish to suspend yourself in time right here, where everything is perfect. For now.

I found another of those “she gets it” moments in Wind’s summary of grief.

There was a craziness in that kind of pain he didn’t wish on anyone, and he’d been desperate to escape it.
And another…

On this cool golden morning, having left his wife and his children asleep in the house they shared, Marcus touched the big letter J carved into the black granite and felt a sorrow he would never reconcile.

She so gets that such sorrow never truly abates and recognizes the ability of the human spirit to simply bear up under it. After reading Wind's "The Story Behind The Story", I can see why and how Wind was able to capture and convey this wisdom.

A great book. With emotional depth, sex appeal and an interesting journey to an unexpected truth. I would highly recommend it.

Dirty by Megan Hart

Dirty by Megan Hart

This is what happened...
I met him at the candy store.

He turned and smiled at me and I was surprised enough to smile back. This was not a children's candy store, mind you--this was the kind of place you went to buy expensive imported chocolate truffles for your boss's wife because you felt guilty for having sex with him when you were both at a conference in Milwaukee.

Hypothetically speaking, of course.

I've been hit on plenty of times, mostly by men with little finesse who thought what was between their legs made up for what they lacked between their ears.

Sometimes I went home with them anyway, just because it felt good to want and be wanted, even if it was mostly fake.

The problem with wanting is that it's like pouring water into a vase full of stones. It fills you up before you know it, leaving no room for anything else. I don't apologize for who I am or what I've done in--or out--of bed.

I have my job, my house and my life, and for a long time I haven't wanted anything else.

Until Dan. Until now.

I read this one a while ago and wanted to blog about it but never did. I'm not going to go into the storyline, if I do it will ruin it for the readers, but I will say this: The blurb above? It doesn't do this book justice. Not at all. This book is so much more than that.

Like Rosie, this book knocked me on my ass. Seriously. I was expecting something shallow and just all about sex, but Dirty is so much more. The angst in this book is experienced by the heroine, and oh my God is it intense. For the longest time my eyebrows were furrowed trying to understand why, then it all became clear. Dear God. Through this book I kept saying, "I'm putting this down and not reading it anymore" because it was seriously deep and emotional and I wanted to get away from it. But reading Dirty is like watching a train wreck... you want to look away but for some reason you feel compelled to watch. I was compelled to finish this book. I had to. No matter if it was hard, emotional, and deep. And finish it I did. And I am very, very glad I did.

Dirty is done in first person, and anyone who knows me knows I don't DO first person. But I wanted to read this book, this story, to see why everyone was taking about Ms. Hart's latest. So, I read it, and first person worked for me--sort of. Just once I'd have loved to have known what Dan was thinking. Just once while he stared at Elle, not saying anything, just looking at her, I wanted to know what was going through his mind. Disappointment? Curiosity? Confusion? I'd have loved to have been there when he fell in love with her... or was he in love with her all along? Falling a bit more each time they were together? This is the perfect example of why first person doesn't do it for me. I want more. I want to know what he's thinking. I'm female, so I can kinda guess what she's thinking minus her personal issues... so insight into his thoughts, feelings, emotions, fears, etc., is what I need and want from a book, hence my love of third person.

My overall grade of the book: B+.
Had it been in third person and showed me Dan's POV, I'm positive it would have been an A+.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Ice Blue by Anne Stuart

Museum curator Summer Hawthorne considered the exquisite ice-blue ceramic bowl given to her by her beloved Japanese nanny a treasure of sentimental value — until somebody tried to kill her for it.

The priceless relic is about to ignite a global power struggle that must be stopped at all costs. It’s a desperate situation, and international operative Takashi O’Brien has received his directive: everybody is expendable. Everybody. Especially the woman who is getting dangerously under his skin as the lethal game crosses the Pacific to the remote and beautiful mountains of Japan, where the truth can be as seductive as it is deadly…

I thought this a poor imitation of Cold As Ice. Essentially the same plot, but without the depth of characterization. Neither the hero nor heroine ever really cemented for me; I finished the book without ever feeling a connection or care for either one. This was especially disappointing given the potential Stuart had to delve into the trauma Takashi suffered at the end of Cold As Ice. I expected that to have shaped him more, but in the end, I saw him as nothing more than a paper assassin, one readers were simply required to accept.

I also took issue with the degree of his disregard for the heroine. Yes, he kept pulling back, just short of killing her. But he spent little to no time thinking about the “why.” Stuart pretty much left it as mind and body acting separately—his physical actions occurring of their own volition while reiterations of his order to kill marched on in his head. There wasn’t any real struggle or attempt to reconcile the two. And without that internal conflict, his ultimate decision to let her live lacked significance.

His disregard for her on the sexual plane bothered me as well. Stuart combines Summer’s childhood molestation with her ever-dawning realization that Takashi means to kill her to create an almost debilitating fear in her. Almost debilitating. And that was the problem for me. She manages a rigid control, escaping hysteria—all the while nursing a physical attraction to her would be assassin. Again, not enough internal conflict on this point. Summer did spend time thinking about it, but it lacked development. And I’m sorry, but fear is a more powerful motivator than sexual attraction in my mind. Allowing her character to fall into a quiet resignation of her fate made no difference.

As for Takashi, I saw little justification for his actions (he already had the information he needed) and no remorse. It wasn’t enough for me that he felt the attraction and sexual need (and release) too. To me, his own actions bordered on molestation—another significant disappointment given my particular admiration for the ruthlessness of a Stuart hero. Somehow, in Ice Blue, Stuart misjudged, giving us the ruthlessness of Takashi’s frozen surface without ever revealing the color or life below.

Which brings me to another point, character molds. Stuart is known for her ruthless heroes. I usually love them and, to be honest, seek out her titles specifically for “that” character. IOW, I don’t mind similarities in characters cast from the same mold between her books. I don’t, however, want the author to take it to the extreme, assigning the same physical traits, neuroses, etc. from one book to the next. And Stuart does exactly that with her heroines—at least between Cold As Ice and Ice Blue. Enough already about the woman’s physical size—a mention sure, but not a topic worthy of this much attention. And again, attention without development.

And there it is, attention without development. The overall key to my disappointment in Ice Blue. Stuart failed to pull me under, into the depths…of character or conflict. And ultimately, as a ‘surface’ read, it was just ok. A far, far cry from the breathtaking Cold As Ice.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Wild, Wicked, & Wanton by Jaci Burton

Wild, Wicked, & Wanton

Three friends...three secret desires...three chances to make it all come true.
They're inseparable best friends who delight in sharing their wildest secrets and dares. But their latest bet is the boldest one of all: each must sleep with whomever the other two have chosen for her. And come back with every juicy detail...

Abby married the town bad boy. And he lived up to his reputation, bedding any woman who let her guard down. She swore off men for good, but never counted on a pair of sexy veterinarians who are fulfilling a desire of their own.

Blair is the town heartbreaker. Afraid to commit, she's broken off three engagements. Yet there's one man she never had the courage to bed. The one man she really loved. But now, the decision is out her hands.

Callie is the sensible one....but beneath it all she's a true romantic, with the broken heart to prove it. Now her long-dormant fantasies may be getting a workout. A new man enters her life and everything about him is irresistible.

On Ms. Burton's blog, she was generously giving ARCs of Wild, Wicked & Wanton to those who were willing to give reviews, good or bad. Being a fan of Jaci's work, I (of course) jumped at the opportunity.

Wild- In Wild, we've got Abby. She'd been in a marriage, a bad one, that ended badly as well. Now she's trying to get on with her life, finishing up veterinarian school, and planning to open her own practice.

But Abby's also got fantasies, ones she tries to deny. As her internship comes to an end, she gets approached by her bosses, Mike and Seth. They propose she go out with them, either separately or together, and Abby's more than slightly stunned. She can't fathom that they both want HER. Mike is a player and extremely gorgeous. He sleeps with lots of women and enjoys them and makes no excuses for it. Seth is the quieter of the two but equally as hot.

At the encouragement of her friends, Abby says yes to their proposal. Abby has one night, a threesome with Mike and Seth, and holy guacamole was it sizzling. But then she has to make a decision of whether she wants to continue to see the men, either together or separately, and in the end I applaud her decision.

Now, I am normally not a fan of menage books, but this one was done in a way that didn't compromise an already-established relationship, and THAT I enjoyed very much.

Wicked- Next up is Blair. Blair loves being in control. She goes out with men and sleeps with them on her terms. She controls every aspect of the relationship while it lasts, and none of them ever really last long... because, she's always been hot for Rand McKay. But being with Rand would mean she had to admit her secret... one that she thinks she hides well, but one that everyone who knows her already knows.

Rand and Blair have been hot for each other since they were kids, and now they finally act on that attraction. Wowzers. Sizzling. Rand shows Blair that sometimes it's okay to let someone else be in control and that it doesn't make you weak, and the way he shows her is oh so very fun.

Again, I have to admit, I'm not a fan of control stuff. Seriously. But the tasteful way this book was done, and the way Rand waited out Blair... SIGH.

Wanton- Callie is a good girl, or at least that's what people think. That is until she hooks up with Jack, corporate attorney and the man who makes her smile every morning when he orders coffee in her shop. He sets her on fire in a way she hasn't been in a long time, since the death of her husband.

I was curious as to what Callie's secret desire was and when I found out, I must say my eyes widened a bit. Yet I love that Callie explores that side of herself with Jack without qualm and that Jake enjoys it as much as she does. The best part of it all? She and Jack find happiness while doing so.

This book was a scorcher! Seriously... yowza. Jaci delivers three novellas that are well-written, and done in a way that doesn't make any of the stories feel rushed. I had only one problem with the book... no condoms. None. I think for the context of these stories, condoms were essential. I, personally, know that I would not be with a man who has a track record like Mike without condoms... or any of the men in this book as they've all had their share of women. But, that being said, I still see this book as... Three hot novellas, one scorching book. I've been a fan of Jaci's since I found her works at Ellora's Cave three years ago, and I have to say I still enjoy her stories just as much now as I did back then.

Thank you, Ms. Burton, for sharing the ARC of this book. It was most definitely an honor and a pleasure. :-)

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Seven-Year Seduction

Seven-Year Seduction by Heidi Betts

BLURB: Time could not erase the fire between them...

Connor Riordan was the last person Beth Curtis wanted to walk down the aisle with, even if it was only at her brother’s wedding. Being close to him was too painful a reminder of her girlhood fantasies--featuring none other than Connor himself.

That crush had culminated in one night of passion and seven years of bitterness; and even now, Beth’s anger warred against her attraction to Connor. Still, there was too much history, too many secrets, that would prevent her from ever loving him again.

But when a storm strands the two together, Beth is in for a surprise. Connor has a secret of his own—he plans on seducing Beth. A seduction seven years in the making...

Quick not-so-professional review: I grabbed this one off my TBR shelf one night when I couldn't fall asleep but was hoping to find a book that would put me to sleep... so NOT what I found. I found a diamond in my TBR stack... a FANTASTIC book that, to me, was not a typical SD. No siree. It was way more than I even imagined.

Boy is girl's older brother's best friend, like one of the family, and girl has the hots for boy in high school. After a game one night girl and boy grab something to eat, go park and eat, then act on their attractions and have sex. Girl is thinking boy is just as enamored as she is, but boy never calls.

Seven years later... girl is home for her brother's wedding, and boy is the best man. Girl and boy dance at wedding, and boy's live-in girlfriend(LIG) at the time sees there's more than meets the eye and confronts boy. Girl is the reason why LIG and boy aren't married but rather only living together, she sees it plain as day and breaks it off. Boy doesn't feel so bad because he knows it's the truth. Boy gets kicked out of and needs to find a place to stay, so girl's older brother/boy's best friend says he can stay at his place while he and the new wife are on their honeymoon. Girl gets slobbering drunk because of boy and their past, trying to forget it all.

Girl wakes up the next morning goes into the kitchen and sees boy standing in her brother's kitchen. Heh heh. Sparks fly in more ways than one, and at first she wants to leave but then ends up staying. They spend time together, get their freak on, resolve the past.

Girl leaves, heads back to job in LA, boy realizes he's in love with her. Boy talks with best friend, best friend/girl's brother tells him to go for it. Boy tracks down girl in LA, declares his love, proposes, she accepts, wants to move back home, and they live happily ever after.

SIGH. Lovely. Love these kind of stories. Ms. Betts delivers great characterization and a fast-paced read, one I highly recommend.

Lydia Joyce – Voices and Whispers

Voices Of The Night

Desperate to escape the underworld's treacherous grasp, Maggie of King Street finds a patron in Charles Crossham, Lord Edgington, who must transform a street girl into a lady in order to win a high-stakes wager.

Charles has never met anyone like the fierce and ardent Maggie, and Maggie's defenses are useless against the seduction of the jaded baron. Their association quickly ignites into a consuming obsession. But both passion and the bet are threatened by a ruthless villain from Maggie's dark past who has plans for her that imperil everything she's ever cared for--and her very life. Charles is her only chance. Together, they can defeat the most cunning criminal London has ever faced, but only if Maggie's new lover can forgive her old sins.

Whispers Of The Night

When four London seasons fail to find her a suitable match, Alcyone Carter does the unthinkable and treks across Europe to marry a foreign nobleman she's never met. But on her wedding night, she discovers her handsome, enigmatic husband is not the man he claimed to be. Rather than live a lie, she escapes his estate into the darkness.
But her husband-ignited by his desire and pride--risks everything to follow her from the depths of the forests into the decadent heart of an empire, where they're forced to confront the passion they've discovered--and the dire threat that could cost them both their lives.

I think Joyce’s strength lies in her characterization. I could say I especially like her prose, but in truth, there is nothing special about it. No crafty turns of phrase or passages I’d call elegant or sweeping. She writes well and that’s that.

I could say that I find her suspense elements gripping. And I do. However, they almost always run as an undercurrent, just out of reach of the reader. The result is an overall feeling that the threats—ambiguously delivered and often ignored for great sections of the book—aren’t real. They are of course—and they do serve in part to move the story along—but Joyce wields them more as a characterization tool than a plot device.

I could say I am particularly fond of the worlds she creates. But that would be inaccurate. No world building here, just powerful settings. While less common in historical romance (at least the historicals I read), they are only locales, not worlds. Joyce invites readers into her setting of choice with rich description and historical accuracy. Then she appears to move on, directing reader attention to her characters (those of flesh and bone). The sense of presence, the mood her settings invoke, continues to permeate her narrative however. And, like the suspense, setting seems designed to further characterization more than the plot.

So yes, characterization is king in every Joyce title I’ve read to date (which I believe is all of them). It is the hero and heroine that engage the reader. Often gritty and scarred, they move the story beyond mere attraction to a deeper, sometimes inexplicable connection. Their romance is always accompanied by unease and Joyce uses their imperfections, whatever threat looms and the shadow and starkness natural to her setting to ensure readers are as ill at ease as the H/H. In every story thus far, the HEA feels both hard won and miraculous.

Excellent reads.

Difficult to pick apart and analyze Joyce’s book(s). I struggled to find even these words. Easier for me to just say that she delivers a sensory experience for the reader—something we crave.
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