Saturday, December 06, 2008

Devils on Horseback: Zeke by Beth Williamson

Devils on Horseback: Zeke is the 3rd in the Devils on Horseback series. Each of these heroes is a tortured Civil War soldier, trying to find his way in the reconstructionist south.

Here's the blurb, courtesy of bethwilliamson.com: Intense, reserved and known for his strategic thinking, Zeke Blackwood has struggled to find his place in the post-war world. After the violent death of the first woman to capture his heart, Zeke retreats into a whiskey bottle—until he’s handed the position of town sheriff.

Zeke sobers up and tries his damnedest to be the best lawman he can be. He hadn’t counted on the tempting new saloon girl to jeopardize his cold, unhappy existence.

Naomi Tucker is a survivor, a woman who made it through the war on her own wit and strength. She hoped moving to Tanger, Texas would bring her the peace and stability she yearns to find. Instead she runs head-on into a cool-eyed sheriff who welcomes her to his bed, only to push her away.

The wildness of the West is far from tamed. It threatens the town’s efforts to rebuild, Zeke’s bond with the Devils—and his fragile relationship with Naomi. As Zeke’s hold on sobriety slips, he and Naomi must choose between settling for half a life apart, or embracing all they could be. Together.
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I think Beth Williamson's books get better with each one she writes. She may be one of the best western historical writers out there right now. This was a beautifully written book about two wounded souls. Some of the most beautiful, emotional, poignant, and powerful passages in the book come while describing Zeke's alcoholism, his despondency when fighting his feelings about alcohol, and his desperation, feeling like he is fighting a completely losing battle.

In the middle drawer was a flask with more dents and scratches than the desk. Zeke hadn't touched it, hadn't dared to. Yet now all he could think about was what might be in the flask.
He licked his lips, already tasting the smoky flavor of the imaginary whiskey. Before he even realized what he was doing, the flask was in his hand. He pressed the dented tin to his forehead, the metal cool against his flushed skin.

Zeke cupped the flask, staring at it until he felt a tear roll down his cheek. "It's so fucking hard," he whispered. "I just need a sip."

He unscrewed the top.

Each time you think Zeke has hit bottom, he picks himself up and dusts himself off, only to fall again. Until he has lost everything, including Naomi, and leaves town, drowning his sorrows in the desert. He is hit with an hallucination of his friend Nate and after that comes the following passage:

Agony roared through Zeke as every wound he tried to drown was ripped open anew. Once the tears began, he couldn't stop them until he simply had no more left within. His face was hot and gritty, as the salty wetness mixed with the elements of the rawest human emotion.

As the sun set, a solitary figure huddled between two rocks, shirtless and shoeless, hugging his knees while rocking back and forth. Zeke Blackwood had finally hit bottom.

One gets the feeling, reading Zeke's story, that Beth Williamson either has some sort of personal experience with alcoholism, or did some very good research. Zeke's feelings are incredibly realistic, and heartbreaking.

I haven't said much about the heroine, but she is portrayed as a moral (but not uptight) woman. But one who has had to compromise her principles in order to survive. One who is unwilling to be treated as a 2nd class citizen by the man that she loves, unapologetic for the path she has had to take in order to survive. You get a sense of her almost immediately, wen it's clear upon being taken to jail, that she is terrified to be locked "in a cage", but she puts on a brave front rather than show her fear. Her inner dialogue gives a glimpse of the woman beneath. I really liked that Williamson not only showed the sexual attraction between these two characters, but also the link of shared suffering, and showed some scenes in which they spend time together just talking, sharing their backgrounds. It makes it all the more heartbreaking when Zeke turns his back on Naomi in favor of the bottle.

Once again, we also see the closeness between the men (the "Devils on Horseback"), Zeke and his brother Lee, their cousin Gideon, and their friend Jake. These guys are a family, brought together by a shared childhood and the horrors of war. These guys would do anything for each other, and the strain of Zeke's alcoholism brought to their relationships was well written.

The only quibble I had with the book was when Zeke was off cleaning himself up, how is it that in the space of 2 short weeks, Naomi allowed herself to become engaged to the town preacher when she was so deeply in love with Zeke? I understand, given her background, her desire to be respectable, safe, loved, and all that, but in 2 weeks? That didn't make sense to me. I was happy to see her come to her senses when Zeke came back to town.

All in all, this was a beautifully written book about salvation, forgiveness, and learning to love and be loved. Zeke seriously broke my heart. You can buy this in ebook format from Samhain here. I also highly recommend the first two in the series, Nate and Jake, as well as anything Williamson has written. I particularly loved The Education of Madeline, which is being rereleased from Kensington Brava in February. Can't wait!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Wicked Burn by Beth Kery

Wicked Burn by Beth KeryWhen Beth Kery approached me to ask if I'd be interested in reading her NY debut novel from Berkley Sensation, I thought, why not? And thanks! My only trepidation came from the fact that I'd have to review it, and I've been in one helluva reviewing slump. I've read a hella lotta great books, but can't get up the gumption to review a single one.

So... I read this over Thanksgiving weekend, and it's taken me this long to review it. My apologies, Beth.

Here's the blurb, courtesy of www.bethkery.com:
He wanted all of her…
Vic Savian knows what he wants when he sees it. And what he wants is his sexy neighbor, Niall Chandler. So when he sees her in the hallway of their building being harassed by an aggressive suitor, Vic makes his move—and finds himself greatly rewarded…
And did she ever let him have it…
Sleeping with her gorgeous neighbor—when she didn’t even know his last name—was the craziest thing Niall’s ever done. Now, she can’t seem to get enough of Vic—or the uninhibited passion he stirs in her. Suddenly, with his help, she’s opening to sensual pleasures she’s never known before. But when Niall’s past comes back to haunt her, will she and Vic let themselves venture beyond the bedroom and explore the possibility of love that’s in their hearts?


When the book started, and it was pretty much all sex, all the time for the first few chapters, I must admit, I had my doubts. K, yeah. There you have it. Just a small touch more below of what I could have done without, but overall... great book.

As the story progressed, we got a picture of a couple headed into a relationship. Vic, hurt before, began it determined not to have any sort of "relationship", but found himself completely drawn into Niall. He was open, honest, caring, dominant (oh, yeah was he dominant - rowrrrr). He's in your face - he puts it out there, and if you don't like it, so be it.

Niall was written as the one with the secrets. Not out of any real wish to be secretive per se, but more because she was a private person and out of a desire to hold her hurts close. And there is a very big hurt she is holding close! As the story progresses, and these two draw closer, Niall ends up wounding Vic tremendously by not disclosing her personal information.

These characters must have been difficult for Kery to write - Vic is written as such a raw, emotional, open, honest man, and Niall is so contained, so reserved, yet completely willing to open herself up to Vic in every way but the one he needed the most. But they work well together, both in and out of the bedroom.

There were bits and pieces that I didn't love so much - Niall's parents were not my cuppa, and while I did feel that Vic's responses when Niall was attempting to win him back were honest and true, that section of the book contained a subplot that I felt may have detracted from the main storyline. And, yeah, I'm a touch ADD these days. Because that storyline showed once again what a great guy Vic is. But I was already convinced.

God, I hope I haven't made him sound sappy, because peeps, he is so not sappy. He is raw, rough, emotional, nasty at times, but yeah, a really great guy, too (and he loves his mother). If there is one big flaw with this book, it's that he perhaps is so huge that his character overpowers Niall's, while her story overpowers his. This is how Kery evens the score.

I really really enjoyed this book. Given that the only other book I've read by Kery was a beta read, and I found both the H & H terribly unlikeable (I must now go read some others, because I'm sure that they will be much better!), I was pleasantly and happily surprised to find this a truly satisfying, emotional, sexy book about two very likable people. Wade your way through all the sex in the first couple chapters. I promise, it's worth it!

You can buy it here on Amazon or in ebook here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Eternity, Salvation and Ritual In Death


Title: Eternity In Death (Dead Of Night anthology)
Title: Salvation In Death
Title: Ritual In Death (Suite 606 anthology)

Author: J.D. Robb

Published: 2008

Thoughts: It occurs to me that I measure each In Death installment by its level of Eve/Roarke conflict. Lots of conflict equals a riveting, tension-filled read. Little to no conflict equals a casual, but interesting read. I’m betting most of you feel the same way.

There was very little Eve/Roarke conflict in any of these three titles. Yes, there was the matter of crossing police investigation perimeters in Ritual In Death—but that was more a short-fused pissing contest between them than a deep-seated conflict of interest. There were also externally triggered trips down bad memory lane for both of them—Roarke over the girl he didn’t save and Eve over her father. As we have seen both types of stress in their lives, repeatedly, neither appeared a threat. More like opportunities to feel the love between them.

So take away any and all threats to their marriage and you’re left with a police procedural that plays out among long-time friends and colleagues. Plenty of humor, human drama (observed rather than experienced) and action. In the novellas, Robb weaves in the paranormal—always entertaining in the face of Eve’s practicality—and in Salvation, she introduces a priest that I think will become one of her regular cast members.

As for the cases, they were all interesting. Particularly the case(s) in Salvation In Death. Quite a few twists and turns in that one, and none that led me to the perpetrator before Eve got there.

All in all, relaxing and entertaining reads.

So what stood out?

Feeling the love. That’s what resonated most. In all three books, there is an underlying comfort in the knowledge that they have, in each other, a haven. There is the mental relief and emotional girder that haven provides. And well, there is just plain room to breathe and deal when you have that at your back. Being in a bit of a lull myself—a real-life one, void of serious financial, marital and other assorted stress; on an even keel you could say—I was able to relate. I appreciated the appeal of both the solidness and gooeyness of their love.

And somehow, Robb keeps this fresh. Maybe it’s in the reminders of their independent, solitary pasts, or those moments—still—where each can be startled, totally awe-struck by their love for the other. I swear Robb could do this for another 25 installments and I’d fall every time.

Consider me a lifetime member.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Blue-Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas

Blue-Eyed DevilBlurb (courtesy of lisakleypas.com): "Blue-Eyed Devil" is the story of the charming, volatile and ambitious Hardy Cates, who is determined to carry out his private revenge against the Travis family. Haven is the rebellious Travis daughter who struggles against her overpowering attraction to the most dangerous man in town. But when Hardy crashes a Travis family wedding, the heiress and the bad boy uncover an explosive chemistry that neither of them can deny. Hardy Cates is an unscrupulous rascal, but now he's trying to clean up his act. He is looking for the perfect society wife, the kind of woman Haven Travis could never be. Having once been burned by a love affair gone wrong, Haven vows to stay far away from the sexy heartbreaker. However, Haven discovers that the temptation of a blue-eyed devil is hard to resist. And then when a menace from Haven's past appears, Hardy may be the only one to save her...

In this sequel to Sugar Daddy, we get Hardy Cates and Haven Travis' story. This has been reviewed all over blogland, so I'll just give a quick synopsis of the plot here. Haven and Hardy meet at Liberty and Gage's wedding. Hit it off, huge attraction. But Haven is going to marry Nick and have her HEA.

When they meet again, Haven is recovering (very slowly) from an abusive marriage, divorce, and learning to stand on her own two feet again. Hardy is up against the entire Travis clan after sabotaging one of Gage's business deals. Still, instant attraction yet again, although Haven has a very difficult time with it.

My thoughts:
While this was definitely difficult to read in many aspects because of the violence toward Haven, which was, IMO, very realistically written, I felt that the first person narrative delivered by Haven was often written in a very matter-of-fact, clinical manner. It drew me in less than I otherwise might have been.

What was not clinical, though, were the interactions between the characters; the dialogue, the scenes where the characters actually come together to communicate. These were beautifully done, and I felt every minute of Haven's anguish as she tried to complete sexual intercourse with Hardy. I felt his frustration at not understanding what her problem was. I felt Gage's anger at not being able to handle Haven's problems for her. I felt Nick's irrational anger at Haven.

I also really loved seeing Haven’s family close ranks around her, yet at the same time allow her the room to grow and heal; trying to suppress their own alpha urges and let her spread her wings. It endeared them all to me. I loved knowing that Hardy was a goner from day one. I could see this, even if Haven and the rest of the Travises couldn’t. He handled her so gently, so beautifully. Yet at the same time, willing to kill for her. "Where I come from, 'He needed killing is an acceptable defense'." (Apologies again if I got this line wrong – working from memory, but this one stuck out in my mind). You gotta love a guy who is willing to do anything for you.

So, all in all, I did like this book an awful lot, even if at times, I felt like I was plowing through the DSM-III for Narcissistic Personality Disorder and/or Domestic Violence. Definitely will keep on reading the series. That's saying a lot for me, if you know my serious aversion to 1st person! But who can turn away a Kleypas in any form? Not me!

You can buy Blue-Eyed Devil here.

Next up is Haven's brother Jack Travis in Smooth Talking Stranger. Up for pre-order already! (at the time of this posting, it's 34% off the cover price at Amazon.com)

Bourne and Hoyt's 2008 Releases

The last two ‘new releases’ in my TBR stack were My Lord And Spymaster from Joanna Bourne and To Taste Temptation from Elizabeth Hoyt.

Title: My Lord And Spymaster
Author: Joanna Bourne

Type: Historical
Published: 2008

Blurb: After her father is wrongly accused of selling secrets to Napoleon, lovely Jess Whitby infiltrates the London underworld for the real traitor-only to end up naked in the bed of a rude merchant captain. Not only is she falling in love with him, but he may be the scoundrel she's looking for.

Why: I absolutely loved The Spymaster’s Lady.

Thoughts: Loved this one as much as the first. Bourne is uniquely effective at creating a heroine so burdened the reader feels the weight she carries. And, like the heroine, feels just as battered by the struggle between needing to see it all through on her own and the impossible longing for the hero as safe haven.

It’s the same feeling I fall for every time in Garwood’s Scottish historicals. It may be archaic, but I love a hero who, above all else, represents safety—his chest a place the heroine might curl up and rest for awhile. Silly, but yeah, it gets me. And Bourne captures it like few else.

Bourne’s prose is also unique, or rare IMO. Smart and engaging. So tightly written that not a single word is wasted. And far more “POW!” moments than most—those instances where the words alone impact the reader. For their selection, their arrangement.

Whether a result of that talent or in addition to it, Bourne’s characterization is equally powerful. Adrian in particular. Bourne conveys so much about this man and does so with very few words, very little dialogue. Yet he literally steps off the page. Doyle as well.

Her primary characters—Jess and Sebastian—captured my attention as well. Although I will say I felt shorted a bit by Sebastian’s portrayal. Didn’t seem to get enough of his POV as the story progressed and his anger and frustration at Jess’ independent movement (routinely right into danger) was never matched with action. IOW, his inability or lack of effort to keep better tabs on her felt out of character—important for the movement of the story and for an especially pivotal moment, but overall, just a bit off. That last time, when she leaves his bed and walks right into her own kidnapping, was so avoidable even I was pissed. For a man who seemed to ‘get’ her like no other, he was uncharacteristically obtuse in more than one instance.

Still, listen to me talk about them like they are real folks. Strong characterization overall, strong voice, deep well of emotion…all of it there. I want more from this author.

Word on the Web: Conveniently, author Joanna Bourne keeps a running list of online reviews on her blog (right sidebar).


Title: To Taste Temptation
Author: Elizabeth Hoyt

Type: Historical
Published: 2008

Blurb: Lady Emeline Gordon is the model of sophistication in London’s elite social circles, always fashionable and flawlessly appropriate. As such, she is the perfect chaperone for Rebecca, the young sister of a successful Boston businessman and former Colonial soldier.

Samuel Hartley may be wealthy, but his manners are as uncivilized as the American wilderness he was raised in. Who wears moccasins to a grand ball? His arrogant disregard for propriety infuriates Emeline, even as his boldness excites her.

But beneath Samuel’s rakish manner, he is haunted by tragedy. He has come to London to settle a score, not to fall in love. And as desperately as Emeline longs to feel this shameless man’s hands upon her, to taste those same lips he uses to tease her, she must restrain herself. She is not free. But some things are beyond a lady’s control…

Why: Well, I absolutely loved Hoyt’s Prince trilogy.

Thoughts: Agree with Lori, I enjoy Hoyt’s penchant for weaving fairy tale through her books. In this one, Hoyt cleverly tied the fairy tale to the heroine—near the end, then left the reader wondering at its significance at the book’s close. It will be interesting to see if she carries it into the next book—one that features Melisande, the woman charged with translating the tale in this book. If not, then I missed something along the way here.

Unlike Hoyt’s Prince trilogy, this story and its characters did not immediately appeal to me, didn’t grab me. A third of the way into it however, I was hooked. Both hero and heroine continued to behave in ways that annoyed me, but Hoyt gave them reason to and I was convinced. Even more so after she introduced a third character—a fiancée—and stretched the conflict further—for both Emeline and Samuel. It is interesting to note that while I was convinced of their characters and compelled to read their story, I still didn’t like them much. Testament to the storyteller.

I did like how To Taste Temptation fell just outside the typical confines and expectations of historical romance—in that way, very much like the Prince books. And no tidy way around societal conventions either. The H/H get to their happy ending by tossing those conventions pretty much altogether. Like I said, convincing.

More and more, I’m liking my books darker, more dense. Not sure if that is a paranormal influence or not. I just know that I’m quickly and easily bored with standard historical fare lately. I should have loved Kleypas’ Wallflower Christmas and I couldn’t get over 25 pages into it. Too fluffy. Nor can I tolerate straight romantic contemporaries, for which many are campaigning right now. Really, I’ve no idea why. Just need more grit right now, and both Bourne and Hoyt deliver.

As did Sherry Thomas in Private Arrangements. I’ll review that one shortly.

Word on the Web:

Cindy Reads Romance
Bodice Ripper Reviews
Animegirl
The Good, The Bad and The Unread
Pearl
Dear Author
Book Binge
Book Smugglers
Musings of a Bibliophile
Ramblings on Romance
Romance NovelTV

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Undercover by Lauren Dane (ARC)

I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC of this book from Lauren Dane. This is a sci-fi ménage suspensey type novel being released from Berkley Heat on 2 Dec. Lauren categorizes it as this on her website: Futuristic, Erotic Romance, Menage, BDSM.

Blurb (courtesy of laurendane.com): On the battleground or in the bedroom, one woman and two men fight for dominance in a bold, new, and excitingly different direction in erotica...

As a lieutenant of the Federation military, Sera Ayers is accustomed to giving orders, not taking them. Now she must obey the one man she can’t stand—and can’t stop thinking about.

With the enemy Imperialists gaining ground, a covert team is assembled by Ash Walker. Ten years before, Sera had lovingly submitted to Ash’s dominance in the bedroom. But when he was forced into a political marriage, she refused to play mistress. His marriage now over, Ash wants Sera on his team—and back in his bed.

The third team member, Brandt Pela, has an elegance to match Ash’s savage sexuality. And when their undercover plan requires Sera to pose as Brandt’s lover, it ignites a passion among the three of them more dangerous than their mission.

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Parts of the book have almost the feel of a regency historical, in that the familial and societal hierarchies are such that the eldest sons must marry at a certain level ("rank"), and Sera was not "ranked", therefore she was considered unfit to marry Ash. He had an arranged marriage with Kira. Sound like a regency historical? Yet this is definitely sci-fi futuristic all the way.

Dane always writes compelling, emotional characters that I can relate to, no matter the setting; no matter the genre, from her contemporaries, to her werewolves, to, now, her futuristic soldiers. Sera's pain at being passed over by Ash for Kira is still raw, and all it takes is seeing him to bring it to the fore. Her refusal to be his mistress... her outrage is felt strongly. Dane writes her so compellingly that you can feel her agony. You can also feel Ash’s pain at having had to give Sera up, and how badly he wants her back.

At the same time, you can feel how much Brandt loves Sera, almost on sight, and wants her as well. There is a ton of ménage here, as well as some mild m/m. Sera is a sexual submissive, as much as she is a kickass soldier out of the bedroom, and must play the submissive in her undercover role as well – not an easy part for her.

Yet, where the book fell for me was in how easy it was for these two alphas (Ash moreso than Brandt) to share Sera so easily, and without even a flicker of jealousy ineither direction. In fact, Dane went out of her way in the dialogue and narrative to assure the reader (and Sera) that sharing was not a problem for them. I had a tough time with that one.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. Many of Dane's books take me out of my comfort zone, and she is one of the few authors I trust to do so. I go willingly with her. I know I will always get "human" characters; flawed, but endearing; straight-talking, but not unattractively so; and an involving story, with a defined beginning, middle, and end. I never feel cheated reading a Dane book. This one was definitely outside my comfort zone – not because of the ménage, the (very mild) BDSM, or even the (again, very mild) m/m, but for the setting itself. It's not my favorite setting at all, in fact one I rarely read, if ever. I like it even less than shifter books. But Dane’s strong characterization and gentle handling of the D/s relationships carried me through, and made it a thoroughly enjoyable journey.

Undercover releases on 2 December, and you can preorder it on Amazon here. It's currently 32% off, as of the writing of this post - $10.20, regular price is $15.00.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Hostage To Pleasure by Nalini Singh

Preface: Right now, I’d categorize my reading into four categories:

1) Highly anticipated (by me) releases of this year.
2) Recent (say last six months or so) blogger recs that stand out in my mind.
3) And whatever the next installment is for series I’m working my way through.

Generally, my reading is a mix of all of the above. At present however, I feel like I’m methodically working through the stacks of books in my closet. By category. Starting with the first. Hence my recent reviews of Fearless Fourteen, Tribute, Loose And Easy, and here, Hostage To Pleasure. This category also included Anne Stuart’s Fire And Ice, but that one was a DNF for me. So, onward with reviews of books ya’ll probably read months back.

Title: Hostage To Pleasure
Author: Nalini Singh

Type: Paranormal
Series: Book 6 in the Psy-Changeling series
Published: 2008

Blurb: Separated from her son and forced to create a neural implant that will mean the effective enslavement of her psychically gifted race, Ashaya Aleine is the perfect Psy--cool, calm, emotionless...at least on the surface. Inside, she's fighting a desperate battle to save her son and escape the vicious cold of the PsyNet. Yet when escape comes, it leads not to safety, but to the lethal danger of a sniper's embrace.

DarkRiver sniper Dorian Christensen lost his sister to a Psy killer. Though he lacks the changeling ability to shift into animal form, his leopard lives within. And that leopard's rage at the brutal loss is a clawing darkness that hungers for vengeance. Falling for a Psy has never been on Dorian's agenda. But charged with protecting Ashaya and her son, he discovers that passion has a way of changing the rules...

Why: Singh = Auto-read

Thoughts: Here is what I wrote about the last installment:

Mine To Possess by Nalini Singh – I love Singh’s Psy-Changeling books. No question. But this was the first one to grip me on page ONE. Literally, I was pulled under instantly. And no, before this, I hadn’t paid much attention to Clay. As a secondary in earlier books, he never really stood out to me. But man, Singh set his story up and hooked me before I could blink.

Pretty much a ditto here, for Hostage To Pleasure. I was instantly pulled under by a scene and characters I remembered from the close of the last book. Off and running in paragraphs rather than pages.

It’s funny though…as I sit here collecting my thoughts for this review, I can’t seem to find anything new to say about Dorian and Ashaya. Dorian fits Singh’s Changeling mold to a T—in spirit. His inability to shift adds a depth to him of course, but it doesn’t make him all that different than the Changeling men we’ve already loved. He embodies the same fierceness, loyalty, competence, intelligence, possessiveness, sex drive, etc. as the rest. And every one of those facets appeals to me as much now—in Dorian—as they first did in Lucas, Singh’s first hero. It’s a powerful mold to withstand such repetition. No question. Still fresh. Still raw. Still captivating.

The same can really be said of Singh’s Psy heroines. Ashaya is another Psy female with a spine of steel and a mind close to shattering. Same stand-out attributes Singh gave us in Sascha and Faith. And equally appealing this time around.

There is also the expected Psy-Changeling interracial conflict. Dorian despises the Psy. He holds them responsible for his sister’s gruesome death and perceives his attraction to Ashaya as a betrayal to his sister’s memory. As for Ashaya, like her predecessors, she views an emotional relationship with Dorian as a direct threat—sure to compromise the shields she wields in self-protection.

Beyond these staples, if you will, Singh veers into new territory, adding a Psy mother-son connection and an evil Psy twin. Both compel Ashaya to risk her life; both deny Dorian the ability to protect Ashaya from harm. Here, he cannot simply eliminate the threat her twin poses, nor can he act in any way that will bring harm to her son. This is also trademark Singh. Hers are not conflicts easily resolved. And while the reader is assured of the ultimate mating, she cannot predict at what cost it will come. In this case, without giving anything away, I think the true cost calculation is left for future installments.

I can also say that, overall, Hostage To Pleasure reflects how well Singh has managed to evolve this series, this world. I’ve little recollection of its world-building elements, so they were either seamless or no longer required in this installment—leaving much more time for readers to spend with her rich characters. I’d almost say Hostage To Pleasure doesn’t stand alone, but as I know someone firsthand who just dove into this series with this installment—and loved it—I’m not so sure that is true.

Over, overall, Singh’s books remain on my highly-anticipated list. Sure, I fall behind on release dates, but that’s just a financial issue. Going forward, I just can’t see this series ever becoming one I have to ‘catch up’ with. Nor will I wait any longer than I have to to read her new series debut, Angel’s Blood when it releases next year.

Word On The Web:


Sandy at The Good, The Bad, The Unread, A+

Literary Vampiress, A

Errant Dreams, 5 out of 5

Limecello at The Good, The Bad, The Unread, A-

Rosario, A, A, A!!!

Book Smugglers, 9 damn near perfection

Aimless Ramblings, 5 of 5

AztecLady at Karen Knows Best, 8.75 out of 10

Casee at Book Binge, 5 out of 5

And many, many more perfect scores. Too many to list.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Loose And Easy by Tara Janzen


Title: Loose And Easy
Author: Tara Janzen

Type: Romantic Suspense
Published: 2008

Why: Besides Superman? Janzen is an auto-read.

Thoughts: Fun and sexy, as usual. I enjoy Janzen’s men and their over-the-top appreciation of the female body as much as I enjoy the adolescent banter among Brockmann heroes. What can I say? My inner, less-than-progressive self likes it and my old and wrinkly feminist organ gave up trying to fight it awhile back.

This male appreciation got me right from the start in Loose And Easy, when Ramos recalls Esme as a size four. Then, seeing her up close, decides her ass has definitely matured to a size six. Juvenile? Demeaning? Nope, hilarious and sexy.

And on the topic of male appreciation, I love how Janzen always comes back to comparing her alphas to Christian (Superman). Or rather, pointing out how none of them compare. No one knows his way around a woman’s body like Superman. Or her mind. That little continuous thread throughout this series comes as close as anyone else has to the ongoing love affair readers have for Robb’s Roarke. Swear.

So, Janzen’s trademark sex-on-the-brain guys entertained throughout the book. And that kept me reading. Otherwise, I’m afraid I would have considered passing on this installment. Ramos and Esme are interesting, as were the night’s events and supporting cast. But overall, I found far more internal, repetitive thought than I like. I prefer Janzen’s characters’ thoughts to be more direct (like in books past)—calculating threat level, planning their next move or fondly noting a size six ass. Here, I found both Ramos and Esme over-thinking their attraction for pages at a time. There was also mention of Esme’s trauma during a failed mission and Ramos’ difficulty in dealing with post-combat issues and responsibilities. But neither were fleshed out sufficiently enough, in my mind, to add noticeably to character depth. They knew each other in high school and any baggage picked up since then should have either been given more weight—profoundly changing them—or left off altogether. Honestly? Just learning of each others’ chosen professions would have been enough. Both accounted for the honed, tough cookies they are today.

Overall: Despite the mild impatience Ramos and Esme inspired, I enjoyed the book. Again, Janzen’s hero mold appeals to me and, as long as it is significant in some way, the appearance of established characters is also appealing. Particularly when Janzen veers to more serious, emotionally meatier storylines like she did here. At the end. General Grant’s announcement sent chills up my spine. I do not want to know how long we must wait for this story to unfold. It promises to knock me back to the breathlessness of Janzen’s previous books.

Word On The Web:

Heather’s Books, Thought this was Tara at her best.

Jane, Dear Author, C+

A Bookaholic’s Review, Not what she expected from Janzen.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tribute by Nora Roberts


Title: Tribute
Author: Nora Roberts

Type: Contemporary, stand alone
Published: 2008

Why: NR = Auto Read

Thoughts: Strangely enough, I expected to be disappointed. Unable to read this one on or close to its release date, I skimmed or skipped most blogger reviews back when. (I do that when I plan to read the book regardless.) Weeks later, book in hand, I sat down with the dim recollection that Tribute fell flat for many readers. Where in the fuck did I get that idea?

I enjoyed it immensely. Roberts creates such a rich community of characters, right down to the dog. No clue how she does it, but she introduces and arranges characters so naturally that the reader is as easily acquainted with them as the book’s protagonists. They are introductions that, despite the suspense element, evoke no conscious thought to motive or background. Rather, we get an acceptance that is guided solely by the connections through which they are engineered. Friend of a friend, and family.

Sure, Cilla wonders if this or that one is the mysterious lover in her grandmother’s past, the one who may be stalking her. But those thoughts do not plague the story. Not for the sake of building suspense and not for the sake of giving each character a place in the plot. Instead, Roberts weights every connection with emotional attachment, adds a cohesiveness inherent in work crews laboring toward the same goal and then binds it all together with generational ties.

End result? The reader senses early on that the villain will ultimately be an insider, hiding among this labyrinth of connections and relationships, but still feels that somehow it will all work out in the end. Not so different from Roberts’ other standalone novels. The villain usually is someone known to some if not all of her cast. So we wait, in suspense, not for the bogeyman, but rather to see how Roberts’ characters will cope with the betrayal of friend, coworker or family member. Solid, emotional stuff.

As for the romance in this one, one word. Fun. Two wise acres who find each other after years of not searching. Very entertaining. They are so well matched in wits that I found myself comparing their rapid-fire banter to that of Eve and Roarke. The kind of banter you practically have to climb into the head of the other to achieve. Or be cut from the same cloth. That humor was their connection, their spark for me. The rest of it—protectiveness, appreciation for the real (flawed) you, sexual chemistry—followed. Everything I like in the romance portion of the program, just not choreographed. Loved that. Loved that it was all tumbled and tangled amidst everyday life. Refreshingly lopsided. Gender role reversal included.

It was also refreshingly consistent, as Ford wields the same humor in every relationship—even the one that blooms between him and Cilla’s ex. Hilarious and poignant. That Ford’s dog is equally consistent when building relationships only underscores Roberts' portrayal of him as…steady. It’s funny yes, but it also reveals a truth about the pair—Ford and his dog. They are ultimately the perfect home for Cilla. It was an HEA easily seen from the start. One that never really felt threatened—not by the suspense stuff and not even by the emotional baggage stuff. Steady equaled no-brainer for Cilla, and the reader knew it.

So did Cilla. And she dealt with it. Working through it as she went about her everyday life. That was the other thing I liked here, everyday life. With work front and center. I enjoyed the peek into a graphic novelist’s work as well as the full-out invitation into home restoration. Really liked that faucet-line-over-the-stovetop idea. LOL Boy, I’d have pasta every night of the week if I had me one of those.

Overall, a relaxing read. Entertaining, well-paced and filled with folks I genuinely liked.

Word On The Web (Introduced and graciously shared by Jessica at Racy Romance Reviews):

Clare at Confessions of a Book Addict, Found the restoration stuff tedious and the book a bit of a letdown.

Tempting Persephone, Thought there should have been more depth or suspense, but liked it.

AztecLady at Karen Knows Best, Says it best I think, having liked it as much as she did.

Good Books, Bad Books, Liked the house rehab stuff too.

Jane at Dear Author, C grade

Casee at Book Binge, Yep, what she says.

So mixed reviews. And this is where I got the idea it might disappoint. So glad Ms. Roberts is an auto-read for me. Otherwise I'd have missed out.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Crossfire by JoAnn Ross

Crossfire by JoAnn RossHere’s something different: Instead of giving you the synopsis, just watch it.



So anyway... Here are my thoughts. I’m really a JoAnn Ross fangirl. I am. Crossfire is the 2nd in this High Risk series of Special Ops guys, several from different branches of the military – Freefall was the first.

What did I like? I liked the SpecOps angst. Ross writes it very Brockmannesque, yet it’s not quite as in your face. These guys are a little more personal with their angst, but it’s no less there. Quinn is now an author. I like that he is in a quiet profession now – one prone to introspection. And that makes him appear, at least on the surface, more at peace with the ‘incident’ that has brought all these warriors back home from Afghanistan. Quinn comes across as very human, which is a real treat.

I liked the procedural, when Cait was interacting with all the other law enforcement officers. She comes across as gutsy, strong, knowledgeable, intelligent. Yet not afraid to accept help when she needs it, even when it comes from a source she really doesn’t want to accept.

Ross gives the 'shooter' his own POV, something she excels at. I always enjoy reading her killer's perspectives.

We get to revisit Father Mike Gannon, from the Stewart Sisters trilogy (which I loved, BTW). I laughed my ass off to see that Ross calls him Father What-a-Waste on her website. Were truer words ever spoken? LMAO!! Mike is no longer a priest, BTW, which opens up a whole lotta doors. Yipee-kiyay. I hear he gets his own HEA in the next book, even though he is not the main hero. Rock on! There are also a lot of other connections to Out of the Storm, as Cait is Joe Gannon’s former partner. There are a couple scenes with Joe, and it was lovely getting to see him as well.

What didn’t I like? Well, it took a while for me to enjoy the interactions between Quinn and Cait. They were stilted, and not in the way that I suspect Ross intended. Once Cait stopped being a total bitch, the interactions were smoother, and even though she still fought the relationship, I welcomed them.

I didn’t quite get a feel for the setting, either. Although I read the previous book, and she did a beautiful job describing it, and making you feel as though you could close your eyes and step on the island, for a reader just picking up this book, I couldn’t feel the setting, which is actually unusual. In all her books, Ross does a fantastic job of placing the reader right there – whether it’s in the heart of New Orleans, in a snowy Wyoming town, or a sleepy Southern island off the coast. So it’s something that I noticed missing.

All things equal, I did enjoy this, and the flaws didn’t diminish my position as a fangirl. I truly can’t wait to read Shattered, which is the next in this series.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Line of Scrimmage by Marie Force - a quickie review

Line of Scrimmage by Marie Force
I heard about this from all the buzz over at Book Binge. And so glad I decided to pick it up. It’s sports romance ála Rachel Gibson, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, etc. This book has been reviewed a lot, so I’ll just give a quick overview of what I liked and didn’t.

I really, really liked that Ryan was a fully developed 3-dimensional character, not a cookie-cutter sports hero. Totally willing and able to discuss his feelings with his wife. To be able to be the first one to say “I don’t want a divorce.” He was willing to give everything up to be with Susannah. If only he had realized it just a little earlier on. I loved that he fell in love with her in college and was still in love with her 10 years later.

I liked that Susannah was willing to get over her engagement to Henry long enough to try again. I liked that she was sassy and unimpressed by his fame. I liked that he liked that about her also.

What didn’t I like? I didn’t like that Susie assumed the worst of Ryan at the ball – assuming he’d lied about having an affair. It seemed to me to be the one area that he was always very straight up with her about, and that she really shouldn’t have had any worries on. However, having been pregnant, I know that hormones sometimes do make one irrational. But still….

I also really hated his attitude in the first scene. Granted, it was bravado in the face of his injury and his wife’s new fiancé, but it just didn’t jive with his character as Force built it in the rest of the book.

Having said that, I simply loved this boo. Pure escapism, with lots of deep emotion, good humor, sex, and fun. What more can you ask? I’ll be looking for more of Marie Force’s books.

The Mistress Diaries by Julianne MacLean

The Mistress Diaries by Julianne MacLeanI have to admit, I wasn’t all that taken with In My Wildest Fantasies. In fact, I pretty much disliked it. However, I really, really liked this one. I was concerned at first that we were only going to get the story from Cassandra’s POV, and what MacLean really excels at is giving us a window into the hero’s mindset, and making us sympathize with him, making us truly root for him, and changing him from villain to hero right before our very eyes.

What did I like? I really liked both the hero and the heroine. An unusual situation for me. Cassandra was someone who, when we meet her, was enjoying her sensuality, having a fling – a one night stand, and loving every second of it. That’s not something we see too much of in historicals. Through flashback (nobody does them as well as MacLean, IMO), we learn that Vincent was just as taken with Cassandra, if not moreso, during that one night stand. Yet, he was unwilling to give up his freedom and give his heart to another only to have it squashed once again.

MacLean for the most part rightly keeps the story focused on the hero and heroine. I really enjoyed in this book what was so glaringly missing in the first; watching the relationship form between these two people. Yes, they had a one night stand that resulted in a child. But, they then began a friendship that enabled them to learn about one another, and open up with each other. In that respect, I was reminded of The Seduction, by Nicole Jordan, another book I absolutely adored for much the same reason. Only then did they become lovers again, and admit their love for one another.

What didn’t I like? A quite one-dimensional villain in Letitia, and surprisingly, I didn’t care all that much for Devon, the hero from In My Wildest Fantasies (he was really the only thing I liked about that book). He seemed quite one-dimensional as well. Granted, he is a secondary character here, but given that he is someone the reader theoretically knows and cares about, I felt a bit cheated, even given the rift between him and Vincent for the majority of the book.

Overall, a much better book than In My Wildest Fantasies. I felt like I was reading Julianne MacLean again. The next book, When a Stranger Loves Me is due out in February 09.

Demon Angel by Meljean Brook


Title: Demon Angel
Author: Meljean Brook

Type: Paranormal (but in a class, literally a class, by itself)
Published: 2007

Blurb: For two thousand years, Lilith wrought vengeance upon the evil and the damned, gathering souls for her father's armies Below and proving her fealty to her Underworld liege. Bound by a bargain with the devil and forbidden to feel pleasure, she draws upon her dark powers and serpentine grace to lead men into temptation. That is, until she faces her greatest temptation—Heaven's own Sir Hugh Castleford...

Once a knight and now a Guardian, Hugh spent centuries battling demons—and the cursed, blood-drinking nosferatu. His purpose has always been to thwart the demon Lilith, even as he battles his treacherous hunger for her. But when a deadly alliance unleashes a threat to both humans and Guardians in modern-day San Francisco, angel and demon must fight together against unholy evil—and against a desire that has been too long denied...

Why: Blogger reviews back in 2007. I know, my TBR list is aging like fine wine.

Thoughts: Hard to pin down I think, because it took me three weeks to read Demon Angel. That is a long time to spend with one book—long enough for the forces of my life to overpower the forces in Brook’s remarkable story. I’ll do my best however, to sort my reaction or experience from the rest of the clutter.

1. From the first page, reading Demon Angel transported me back to one of those stand-out periods in college—a lit class devoted to Milton’s Paradise Lost. I’d grant Brook whatever book-of-the-year award necessary just to say thank you for the vivid recollection of that wonderful experience. I loved that class.

2. And maybe it was the lit feel of Demon Angel that explains why I read it so slowly, taking time and care with its complexities, savoring its power.

3. Not escapism in the usual sense. More like an appreciation of the effort that went into its making.

4. Which is both good and bad. Good, because I found Brook’s prose, characters and story riveting. Bad, because there were moments when it felt like studying instead of reading for pleasure.

5. I even went so far as to read two other books during the interim—something I absolutely never do. I am a seriously monogamous reader. Here though, I squeezed in J.D. Robb’s Eternity In Death (easily rationalized because it was a brief respite found in an anthology) and Janet Evanovich’s Fearless Fourteen (also easily rationalized because Plum reads are fast reads and it was due back at the library the next day). Still, there was guilt.

6. So, between the distraction afforded by Eve, Roarke and Stephanie and some sudden, debilitating back pain (long story), I’m having a hard time bringing the memory of Demon Angel into focus. Let’s see…

7. Timeframe. Epic, but not in the generations way of Thorn Birds. More like a sweeping historical journey—through spiritual worlds many readers already know and fear. Another slash in the this-is-not-escapism column. Not at all like the pure fantasy of Liu or Singh. No, Brook’s depiction of heaven and hell is far more personal, more disturbing.

8. Characterization. I’ve no words. No way to adequately describe the connection recognized between Hugh and Lilith in their first meeting. Followed immediately by some of the most powerful H/H exchanges I’ve ever read—moments when the reader almost struggles to comprehend the depths already forged between them. We know they are destined for something in the same way we believe that our lives—in their entirety—are already known by God. Both frightening and comforting—that constant blade of control versus trust. It is the crux of Demon Angel. Or it was for me anyway.

9. Brook’s H/H ride that blade from beginning to end. Phenomenal really. I defy anyone to find another H/H with such insurmountable obstacles. In any given paranormal, the reader expects (and accepts) the world-builder to install an out, a means around or through the conflict for the H/H. But because Brook’s world does not feel entirely of her own making, the reader can’t be so sure. I mean how easy is it for you to envision Lilith making a break from the devil? Insurmountable. Scary. Utterly heartbreaking.

10. And Hugh? When not even the power of God can save her? Where does that leave him? If you haven’t read it, just try to imagine the kind of rage and despair that impotence evokes. If you have read it, then you know.

11. Plot. Admittedly hard to follow. Brook lost me more than once. And despite retracing my steps every time, I still had a hard time assimilating every layer of action and history. These were the moments I referred to—where it felt more like studying, like I HAD to get this before I could move on. Perhaps too much pressure for a pleasure read and sure to result in another year passing before I read the next installment in Brook’s Guardian series.

12. Ending. As complex as the beginning and middle. But absolutely right.

13. Overall...

Stunning, just breathtaking.
Challenging and literary.
Devastatingly, crushingly romantic.
With perfect smart-ass humor and kick-ass attitude.

14. Finally, if this were my copy, I’d house it on my keeper shelf. Next to Milton, not Garwood.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Our first award! Way cool!

Thanks to Jessica, who awarded us the "I love your blog" award. We really appreciate it :) Glad our reviews are saving you money. We can ALL use that!

Here are the directions for this awards:

1) Add the logo of the award to your blog
2) Add a link to the person who awarded it to you
3) Nominate at least 7 other blogs
4) Add links to those blogs on your blog
5) Leave a message for your nominees on their blogs!

Here are our nominees (and we figure since there are four of us, our list of nominees knows no limit):

Karen S

Holly

Jenster's Musings

Wendy

Lauren Dane

KristieJ

Rosie

Jill Shalvis

The LawDog Files

The Pioneer Woman

Unusual Historicals

AccessRomance

Thanks again to Jessica!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Seduce Me at Sunrise by Lisa Kleypas (a buddy review with Nath)

This was a buddy review with Nath of Books, books, and more books and Breezing Through. Cross posted at Breezing Through. Thanks for asking me to buddy review, Nath! it was fun!

WARNING: Loads of spoilers in this one....

Seduce Me at Sunrise by Lisa Kleypas
published by St. Martin's Press in September 2008


Kev Merripen has longed for the beautiful, well-bred Winnifred Hathaway ever since her family rescued him from the brink of death when he was just a boy. But this handsome Gypsy is a man of mysterious origins--and he fears that the darkness of his past could crush delicate, luminous Win. So Kev refuses to submit to temptation...and before long Win is torn from him by a devastating twist of fate.

Then, Win returns to England...only to find that Kev has hardened into a man who will deny love at all costs. Meantime, an attractive, seductive suitor has set his sights on Win. It's now or never for Kev to make his move. But first, he must confront a dangerous secret about his destiny--or risk losing the only woman he has lived for...

Genre: Historical romance
Series: The Hathaway siblings, Book #2

Nath: Wow, you read SMaS in half a day! That was quick!! :) Must I take it you LOVED it?

Lori: LOVED it is strong. Yeah, I loved it, but there were some things I can say I didn't love so much.

Nath: Really? I’m glad I’m not the only one feeling this way. Personally, I thought this book was okay to good. I enjoyed the storyline and liked most of the characters. I did think Ms Kleypas perhaps overdid it with Merripen’s - hmmm, how to put it... - bad temper LOL :)

Lori: I definitely don't agree with some out there that he's the best hero she ever wrote. Certainly one of the most "angsty", though. And yes, bad temper pretty much sums it up, LOL.

Nath: I agree with you, Merripen is definitively not the best hero written by Ms Kleypas ... A man like Merripen is not my ideal man and certainly wouldn’t make me swooned. Yes, there's plenty of angst and he's all tortured in a way, but most of it, he did it himself. Also, I think most heroines would feel the same way as me… Merripen’s personality only worked in my opinion because he and Win knew each other from childhood. Personally, I prefer hero with a bit more balance and for those reason, I enjoyed Cam or even Leo a lot better than him :)

So what didn’t you like of the book?


Lori: I thought it was good - really good and I love that Merripen had that soft spot for Win. But the whole "I'm not good for you" thing needed to stop sooner. I understood it once Cam explained his motivation better, but still... enough!

Nath: Again, I’m in total agreement with you. The whole "I'm not good for you" got tiring fast. I'm disappointed that he wouldn’t fight for her... and I totally agree with Leo's speech.

"Do you understand what you are in, Merripen? A prison of your making. And even after you're out of here, you'll still be trapped. Your entire life will be a prison"

I'm glad Leo called it as he saw it, that Merripen was a coward.


Lori: Though, Ms Kleypas did pull off some really great lines between Merripen and Win. For example:

"Your heart is mine", he thought savagely. "It belongs to me."

And when Win tells him that he doesn't have it in him to love her as a woman...

"All the fires of hell could burn for a thousand years and it wouldn't equal what I feel for you in one minute of the day."

Yum. But she should have stopped there, cause the rest of that little speech kind of creeped me out.

"I love you so much there is no pleasure in it. (huh?) Nothing but torment. Because if I could dilute what I feel for you to the millionth part, it would still be enough to kill you.(WHAT?!) And even if it drives me mad, I would rather see you live in the arms of that cold soulless bastard than die in mine."

Them strong feelings, but just a tad on the creepy side.


Nath: LOL. To tell the truth, so much passion bores me ^_^; It's like, could we get on with the story, please?

Hmmm, what else didn’t I like? I have to say it's weird of me, but I found myself more entertained by everything else than Win and Merripen's relationship. I thought their relationship was too much for me. Also, I think the whole part about Win lying about being able to carry babies was superfluous, because in the end, it never really mattered and it sure didn't change anything.


Lori: Yeah, and then he was willing to throw the whole thing away after he'd already slept with her because of it. Oy, enough already! I'm finding I need my HEA, and I need it now.

Also, I like that Merripen and Cam ended up being brothers, but didn't like so much that they ended up aristocracy. I could have done without Merripen ending up as an earl. What was that about? I thought there would have been enough motivation for the Irish family to want to kill them simply because they were Rom. Making them aristocrats was too much for me.


Nath: True that. I enjoyed the whole mystery behind Cam and Merripen’s origins; however, Merripen annoyed me so much with the whole "don't call me that" whenever Cam would call him ‘phral’ and even when it turned out to be right!!! Ugh.

And you know why Ms Kleypas made them aristocrats right? So they would be accepted by the peers. I think that was unnecessary since none of the Hathaways cared. Sigh.

Okay, so far, it seems that we didn’t really enjoy the book, which is not true. Therefore, time to discuss what, in my opinion, saved SMaS. First, Win.


Lori: I thought Win was a really great heroine, though. And I usually really hate the heroines.

Nath: Strong statement from you then, to say she was a great heroine. I liked Win as well. I think the reason why she stands out from other heroines is that she's already very sure of her feelings towards Merripen. She even tries to seduce him repetitively; she wants to be his woman. She was conscious of her actions and that makes it refreshing. She had lot of guts and strength...

However, I did think she was a bit too naive and it was stupid of her to defend Dr. Harrow. Like the part where she accused Merripen of spreading rumors because he didn't want her to be with Dr Harrow. I think she should have more faith in Merripen's character. The man is traightforward... he wouldn't just lie for that.


Lori: I agree. But you have to cut her a little slack - the man did save her life, after all. And I loved that she set him on fire when push came to shove. Too funny! And Leo's reaction to it was priceless. An annual "Set the manse on fire day". Cracked me up.

Nath: Speaking of Leo, I enjoyed seeing all of the Hathaway siblings and their family dynamics – present and past (when Merripen thinks back of how the Hathaway had welcomed him into the family). However, I’d have done without the other characters (even mentioning them) from the Wallflower series. I believe that the Hathaway's series should stand on its on, but I guess it’s too late. I also think that Amelia, Cam and Leo – especially Leo, stole the show from Merripen and Win a bit.

Lori: I agree - I even forgot that they all 'kind of' knew each other. Also, I loved seeing Amelia and Cam, I didn't mind them in there. I really loved Leo. I knew in Mine Til Midnight he would be a tortured hero, and in one scene we see that he still isn't completely over Laura. Just can't wait for him to get a book. He had some of the best lines in the whole book! For example, when he accused Merripen of taking the easy way out, and leaving him to suffer if Merripen would have killed himself if Win had died of the scarlet fever? Wow, just wow.

Nath: I’m with you. I can’t wait for Leo’s book either! I hope it’s the next one! He's really an interesting character with lots of depth already. I like his whole personality. Now, I'm not sure if I like Ms Marks as his heroine, but I'm sure Ms Kleypas will find a way to work it out :)

Also, what I liked best about this book is how Ms Kleypas used humor to balance Merripen and Win’s relationship. All those funny parts kept me reading :) I LOLed quite a bit in this book which doesn't often happen in historicals... one of my favorite parts is when Merripen is outraged that Leo accused him of not writing and Leo reveals the content of the letter. Or when Beatrix tells Leo he has to go stop Merripen from killing Dr Harrow. Or when Leo tells the constable to give him 5 minutes lead before releasing Merripen. LOL, those were good :)


Lori: That made me laugh so hard - a 5 minute lead :) I love it when there is humor in a book. She needed it here to break all of Merripen's tension, for sure.

Nath: So what grade would you give it, Lori?

Lori: I don't usually grade books. I liked it, I didn't like it... I know you guys all love to grade them, though. I'd probably go with A-/B++. Cause I really did love it. Just not enough to marry it *g*.

Nath: From me, Seduce Me at Sunrise gets a B. I really enjoyed the Hathaway's dynamics and the storyline about Cam and Merripen’s origins. The reason I can’t give this book a higher grade is because Win and Merripen’s relationship did not appeal to me too much, even if I like Win as a heroine. I thought it was too angsty, too passionate and Merripen could be so stupid sometimes ^_^;

Lori: LOL on the stupid :)

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Promises Reveal



Dedicated artist Evie Washington doesn't fancy herself the marrying kind. But the moment she admits that her faceless portrait of a naked man was modeled on the devilishly handsome Reverend Swanson, the whole town assumes she has been ruined. Now, her family's determined to save her reputation - even if it means taking away her hard-won freedom.

However, it's Brad "Shadow" Swanson's preacher status that's a pose - to avoid the law. Now that he's been convicted of the one crime he didn't commit, if he doesn't step up and marry Evie, he'll have to admit his true identity and replace his collar with a noose. Of course, a life sentence in the spirited beauty's bed wouldn't exactly be torture - and it just might be the key to making an honest man out of him.


For fans of Sarah McCarty’s Promise series, this story about the Reverend Brad is possibly the most anticipated book she’s ever written. It certainly was for me. From the first Promise book, the irreverent preacher has been much loved. He has met his perfect match in Evie, the unconventional artist.

As a person deeply involved with faith and religion, I very much appreciated Brad’s occasional comments to God. This ex-outlaw was living the gospel even though he didn’t realize it. Not that this is in any way implied in the story. First and foremost this is a romance. There is no preaching. Well, actually there is and, boy, did the Rev let it fly, along with his fists! We could all do with a similar wake-up call to get more involved in caring for one another. But this is not a Christian romance – it is erotic as only Sarah McCarty can write it.

Promises Reveal was funnier than I remember Ms. McCarty’s books being. I laughed in so many places throughout the book, mostly at Evie’s shenanigans. And there were a few places that were so poignant I got tears in my eyes.

It was a joy to revisit Cattle Crossing and all the characters from the previous Promise books. It is a wonderful community of characters who band together and take care of one another. Ms. McCarty has given the reader glimpses of some other characters who should also be given their own Promise story – Millie, Elijah, Nidia, Gray, Brenna and Jackson.

Now I’m inspired to go back and read the other books again. If I could give Promises Reveal more than A+ I would.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Fearless Fourteen by Janet Evanovich


Title: Fearless Fourteen
Author: Janet Evanovich

Type: Contemporary Romance/Comedy
Published: 2008

Blurb:
You can read it here.

Why: Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series is a must-read for me.

Thoughts: Finally. As in, I finally got around to reading it. I spent most of the summer on the library’s waiting list because every time I was up, I failed to pick up the book on time and was bumped further down the list. Couple weeks back, I got the call and got my butt to the library for it. Promptly took it home and put it in my TBR stack. Didn’t think of it again until the library notified me that it was overdue. Sigh. So Monday night, I sat down with the intention of reading it straight through (won’t go into the reasons why this was possible, but it was). And I did.

You can do that with a Plum novel. Employing the cadence of a droll smart-ass, Evanovich pens the ultimate fast read. The writing is economical, the punch lines expertly timed. Of course, knowing these characters as well as we do helps too. Instant rhythm.

So I read it beginning to end and enjoyed it, beginning to end. Always do. What I particularly liked about this one was its light-heartedness. I know they’re all relatively light and laughable, but some have featured nastier villains with scarier consequences. Those were good, but this one was a nice break. Yes, the kidnapped Mom and toe thing were disturbing, but the danger to Stephanie personally—and the corresponding reaction from her men—felt minimal. That’s what I mean by a break from usual. Either that, or Evanovich is allowing Plum to grow in ability and independence—doing her job without as much hands-on or after-the-fact-ass-saving from the guys.

Another break from routine (that may also be a calculated move to ‘grow’ Stephanie) was the almost complete absence of emotional conflict (of the love life kind) for her. Sure, she spends time with Ranger, to Morelli’s mild annoyance. But her and Ranger trade only one or two references to their attraction. Adult references, powerful, but short and to the point. Meanwhile, her and Morelli cohabitate with relative ease. In neither case is there a surge of internal angst over her dual loves. Just acceptance. Or deferral. Worked for me.

As did the usual cast, new characters and extras. Entertaining, but with enough depth to garner reader attention. Evanovich could go on in this vein til the cows come home. I’d still read her for the laughs.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Wicked Deeds On A Winter’s Night by Kresley Cole


Title: Wicked Deeds On A Winter’s Night
Author: Kresley Cole

Type: Paranormal (Book 3, Immortals After Dark)
Published: 2007

Blurb:

Bowen MacRieve of the Lykae clan was nearly destroyed when he lost the one woman meant for him. The ruthless warrior grew even colder, never taking another to his bed -- until a smoldering encounter with his enemy, Mariketa the Awaited, reawakens his darkest desires. When sinister forces unite against her, the Highlander finds himself using all his strength and skill to keep her alive.

Temporarily stripped of her powers, Mari is forced to take refuge with her sworn adversary. It's rumored that no one can tempt Bowen's hardened heart, but soon passion burns between them. Though a future together is impossible, she fears he has no intention of letting her go.

If they defeat the evil that surrounds them, can Mari deny Bowen when he demands her body and soul -- or will she risk everything for her fierce protector?

Why: Really enjoyed the first two books in this series, a series recommended throughout blogland ages ago.

Thoughts: Overall, clever. Introduced earlier in the series, Bowen is an interesting character. His backstory and, more importantly, his fate, caught my heartstrings and deftly cued up my desire to read his story. That it took me months to get to it is not a reflection on Cole. Say it with me…I’m busy.

All torqued up to learn of his fate, it took me a little while to settle into the story. Cole conforms to no mold here. Instead, she forces patience. Bowen is not at all sure that Mari is his intended mate. For good reason. Lykae have only one mate in the world and Bowen believes his was found and lost 180 years before. Coming into Wicked Deeds, series readers know of Bowen’s mate, her grisly death and his consuming guilt and sorrow. So when he resists the idea of another mate, we understand. But like Bowen, we’re also unable to resist Mari. Amidst a lot of spark, Cole deftly pulls readers forward until we, like Bowen, begin to look for any reason for it to be true.

Mari’s resistance is substantial as well. Left at a young age by both parents, she trusts no one to stay. Especially one who questions her place in his future. Add to that the fact that she has not yet transitioned into an immortal or come close to mastering her given talents and you have a young, vulnerable woman still longing for the comforts of her teenage-like existence back home in the coven. She’s not wrong in thinking a romance with the much older, chauvinist Bowen is off the mark.

For context, Cole picks up where she left off in book two—near the end of The Hie, an international contest the author likens to The Amazing Race. To thwart Mari, Bowen traps her and an assortment of other contestants in the bowels of a mountain inhabited by the long-tortured souls of some nasty critters. To his credit, Bowen believed her capable of escape. When she does not return, the Lykae is ordered to retrieve her or face war. He goes, compelled mostly by the fact that he needs her to reverse the curse she placed on him just as he sealed the mountain. The curse prevents self-healing or limb regeneration and Bowen is in desperate need of both. He is also drawn however, by lingering feelings sparked between them in the mountain and genuine guilt for putting her in mortal danger.

Avoiding predictability, Cole buffers Mari with a cast of others bent on protecting her from Bowen. She also allows Mari physical power over Bowen, effectively countering his natural domination and possessiveness. Cole tilts that balance further by making Bowen honestly squeamish in the face of Mari’s magic. Throughout, there is emotional depth to accompany the laugh-out-loud entertainment.

So, thus far, two very appealing characters, bonafied obstacles to their union, highly believable challenges to the hero’s strength and charm and a ‘scary’ factor climbing up and off the scales. There is also a delightful, wry sense of humor in every character and an authentic Scottish brogue from your hero. Utterly captivating. And charming. Bowen may not be able to charm Mari into complete compliance, but he had no trouble charming the pants off of me. I was so enamored I hesitated to pick up another book after finishing this one. I wanted a few more days to let Bowen’s brogue ring in my ears.

The drama that ends it is fabulous. Exciting and surprising. And finally, the window through which we see the HEA. Granted, the reader does not doubt it will happen, but Cole certainly leaves us puzzled as to how it can happen right up to the end. Every word, worth it.

Overall: I enjoyed myself. Very much. Doesn’t get much better than that.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Into The Fire by Suzanne Brockmann


Title: Into The Fire
Author: Suzanne Brockmann

Type: Romantic Suspense/Military
Published: 2008

Blurb (long one): Vinh Murphy–ex-Marine and onetime operative for the elite security firm Troubleshooters Incorporated–has been MIA ever since his wife, Angelina, was caught in a crossfire and killed during what should have been a routine bodyguard assignment. Overcome with grief, Murphy blames the neo-Nazi group known as the Freedom Network for her death. Now, years later, Freedom Network leader Tim Ebersole has been murdered–and the FBI suspects Murphy may have pulled the trigger. To prevent further bloodshed, Murphy’s friends at Troubleshooters scramble to find him and convince him to surrender peacefully.

Murphy himself can’t be sure what he did or didn’t do during the years he spent mourning and lost in an alcohol-induced fog. He does know he occasionally sought solace from Hannah Whitfield, a former police officer and the very friend who’d introduced him to his beloved late wife.

But Hannah, still grappling with the deafness that resulted from an injury sustained while on duty, was fighting her own battles. For years Hannah had feelings for Murphy, and one painful night their suffering brought them together in a way neither expected–and both regretted.

Murphy is ready to rejoin the living. As always, he finds himself knocking on Hannah’s door, and as always, his longtime friend welcomes him back into her home. Yet even as Murphy slowly rebuilds his splintered life, he continues to fight his growing feelings for Hannah. Then he learns of Ebersole’s murder and comes to believe that the Freedom Network has targeted him–and Hannah–to avenge their leader’s death to violence. Now Murphy must face the terrifying prospect of losing another woman he loves.

As the Troubleshooters desperately search for him, Murphy races toward a deadly confrontation with the Freedom Network and ultimate choice: surrender his life in hopes that Hannah will be spared, or risk everything to salvage whatever future they may have together.

Why: Suzanne Brockmann is an auto-read for me. Has been ever since I stumbled into one of her series midstream.

Thoughts on the busy: Loved every minute of it. Lori is right though, this one is less cohesive than Brockmann’s earlier books. Not that it is random or lacks context, just that its storylines do not all tie together. This was more serial, than episode. And I loved that, in the same way I love spending time with J.D. Robb’s In Death characters. It’s like hooking up with a group of folks I really dig. Catching up with them.

Izzy: Yup, this guy deserves his own heading, LOL. I’m with Lori on this too. I just love him. There is real depth there amidst all the adolescent humor and acting out. A character I want to protect, even while he is making me laugh out loud. Often. Tears, I laugh so hard. As for his girl, I don’t know. Again, with Lori on this, Eden did not appear to have the moral fiber or genuine vulnerability we find in Izzy. Or in her brother for that matter. We’ll see.

Decker: Another who deserves his own heading. I do remember him as the tortured hero of Nash and Tessa’s book. And watching his undoing in this one was heartbreaking. Beautifully done—devastating even in some moments—and expertly punctuated with a scene near the end where he leans down and kisses Nash on the forehead, placing his hand over his eyes to close them. What a turn of events—so heart-stopping I had to get up, after going to bed for the night, and read through to the end. Couldn’t wait one more day to learn the outcome. Also testament to Brockmann’s ability to give us a cast of characters we’re more than happy to grow with, relapse and grow some more with. Again, allowing us to spend time with these folks as opposed to pulling readers forward via newly introduced characters. Know what I mean?

Hannah & Vinh: Their story unfolded perfectly IMO. Of all that is happening in this book, their thread seemed the most disconnected. But that worked. They both live and have lived in a world of their own, on the outside, deliberately removed from friends and family. Both feel like throwbacks, completely out of touch with the real world, and Brockmann’s decision to keep them isolated for the better part of the book made sense. Together, they have much to work out and they do, in an emotional and believable way.

Dave & Sophia: Going with Lori again. Dave really came into his own in Into The Fire. He commanded attention here, with the same traits and demeanor we’ve seen all along. But this time, he was just more…powerful. Don’t know how best to put it into words. Sophia gets it. Decker gets it. I was captivated.

Overall: There is a comment or sliver of a review sticking in my head right now. Can’t recall who (sorry), but they pointed out a single mention of Dylan and Skeeter in Janzen’s latest Steele Street book and highlighted the fact that it added nothing to the present story. While I haven’t read that one yet, I understand the criticism. Thankfully, I find none of that in Brockmann’s series installments. Building on my comments a few paragraphs back, Brockmann’s characters evolve and she lets her readers in on the changes and new challenges. The end result? We know them better, we know them well. Jules. Perfect example. His role in this book, while pivotal, was minimal. And without back story or character background, Brockmann slides him in here without bump or pause. I recognized his wit, his tone and his intent easily. And was happy to see him.

Not to be a total gush, I’ll admit to one thing I disliked. The shrink. Her role felt a bit tangent or she was too guru for me or something. While key to some of Decker’s unraveling, her cookie-cutter shadowy background and missing POV gave her little substance. I thought her a great tool to give context to all the emotional upheaval of the Troubleshooters team, but Brockmann’s execution seemed off.

Have to say overall though, Brockmann is one auto-buy author that has not disappointed. But Lori? I miss the SEAL action too. LOL

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Smoke Screen by Sandra Brown


Title: Smoke Screen
Author: Sandra Brown

Type: Suspense
Published: 2008

Blurb: When newswoman Britt Shelley wakes up in bed with the handsome and hard-partying Jay Burgess, a rising star detective in the Charleston PD, she remembers nothing of how she got there...or of how Jay wound up dead.

Five years earlier, Jay was a hero of a disastrous fire at Charleston's police headquarters, which would have been even deadlier if not for the bravery of Jay and three other city officials who led others to safety. Firefighter Raley Gannon, Jay's lifelong friend, had been assigned to investigate the fire, but the investigation ended in a scandal that shattered Raley's world, and forced him to surrender the woman he loved and the work to which he'd dedicated his life. For five years his resentment has festered, but he was helpless to set things right. That changes when he learns of Jay's shocking death.

As suspicion against Britt Shelley mounts, Raley realizes that the newswoman might be his only chance to get personal vindication -- and justice for the seven victims of the police station fire. But there are powerful men who don't want to address unanswered questions about the fire, and will go to any lengths to protect their reputations. As Raley and Britt discover more about what happened that fateful day, they realize that they're not only chasing after the truth but running for their lives. Smoke Screen is Sandra Brown's most intense novel yet.

Why: Sandra Brown is an auto-read for me. My first Brown title, Slow Heat In Heaven, remains one of only a handful of books on my keeper shelf. I can still remember its characters and many of the pivotal scenes.

Thoughts: Far from the heat of that first title, Brown’s last two releases have been more cold-thriller than hot romance. It is the whodunit and ever-present threat to the lives of its protagonists that propel Smoke Screen. That they turn to each other sexually, and later, emotionally, is secondary.

I’m not sure if this worked for me. Nor can I say whether Brown achieved her desired effect. Reading it, my mood was subdued, my spirits definitely dampened. In turn, that seemed to slow the pace, make the book seem endless. Now, was that because Brown deftly pulled me into the same hopeless circumstances as her characters? I can’t really say. Given the relatively short sections and numerous, numerous pivotal moments, this book should have read faster. It should have felt more edge-of-your-seat. But it didn’t. Instead, reader and character alike make it to the end through pure, and very grim, determination. When you consider that the hero isolated himself for five years before seeking justice and the heroine faces a real possibility of life in prison—where life just stops, that dragging pace may be calculated; that may be what Brown intends. I don’t know.

Brown’s characters lead the action. Teamed up to solve multiple murders and expose a cover-up, they trip and trigger events in quick succession. But because each lead ends at the proverbial brick wall, they and the story feel…stuck. It all seems hopeless and circular. Discouraged and not unaware of the danger they face, Britt and Raley find release in some hard and fast sex. It is not a simple, attraction-based itch they scratch however. He in fact loathes her, or wants to, because she played a significant part in ruining his life five years ago. At the same time, her life has become surreal and despite being in a terribly vulnerable position, she doesn’t spend too much time regretting her role in his public downfall. She’s too busy fighting for her life and her own reputation. That, and she seems the type of person to acknowledge a mistake, apologize, and move on. So these two are not a natural fit from the start. Brown does however, bring them together emotionally in a believable, moving way. It just doesn’t sink in until the end. Throughout the book, there is no romance the reader can ride.

So, there is page-turning action—even though you turn each page dreading another dead-end. And there is strong characterization and relationship building—despite animosity and stress. Looking back, it all worked to create a tightly woven, realistic suspense novel. As for the barely-there romance, I have to say Brown was clever—expert even—in portraying a man and woman drawn to one another. It was a bit gritty, but interesting and ultimately moving. Reminded me of her rank or status among my ‘known’ authors—no way would Brown resort to formulaic tumbles between a hero and heroine on the run from danger. JUST to add romance to her suspense.

Hmmm, maybe one of those reads that feels better days after you finish.
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