Sunday, July 27, 2008

Highland Knight by Cindy Miles

Highland Knight by Cindy MilesCindy Miles writes books about 21st century women who meet up with medieval Scottish knights (usually in ghost form). She manages to do it with a charming voice, humor, and fun; manly, alpha heroes, who manage to be sensitive at the same time (and always whisper love words in Gaelic to the heroine - yum); strong quirky female leads; and always an eccentric, loveable secondary cast that sometimes threatens to overtake the book all on their own.

Highland Knight is no exception. I was fortunate enough to win this on Ms. Miles' blog (thank you!). What can I say... it's been a really good month! This is her 3rd book (the first two are Spirited Away and Into Thin Air). This one was a touch different than Spirited Away, in that Ethan was not a ghost per se, but what he referred to as enchanted... he also 'gains substance' during the gloaming, or twilight hours, which in the summer in the north of Scotland is only for about an hour each day. So, while Amelia cannot touch him otherwise, during the time when he is in human form, there is plenty of touching and kissing going on.

What I liked: Again, Miles' characters are refreshing, funny, endearing, and quirky. The Munro clan (Ethan's family, all caught in the enchantment) are all adorably sexy and sweet. These knights joke around with one another, laugh, make fun, do silly stuff, but when push comes to shove - they are family and would do anything for one another and for Amelia.

Amelia has foibles we can all relate to - who hasn't wanted to drown their sorrows in a can of Cheez-Whiz (or something comparable)? An author facing writer's block, she's at once strong, yet vulnerable, kick-ass, funny, and sensitive. Having her trade tae kwan do lessons for sword-fighting lessons with the guys was funny as hell. I wish we could have seen more of the sword lessons, though.

Ethan himself is another Miles hero: alpha through and through, but at the same time, astoundingly sensitive. I loved following the conversations he and Amelia had - learning about one another, about each other's time and life. Miles has a way of writing these heroes so that we see into their souls. Feel their angst and their joy as they fall headlong into love with these modern women. That is tough to do in what is walking the line, masquerading as a paranormal, time-travel, romantic comedy. But done beautifully nonetheless.

What I didn't like: Not much. This didn't grab me quite as strongly as Spirited Away did, but I think it's simply because I knew what to expect this time. Reading Spirited Away was like discovering a buried treasure - totally unexpected and just that "Wow!" feeling. Highland Knight was like opening the 2nd trunk of that treasure. I already knew there would be some sort of wonderful something inside. I just needed to read it to find out what that something was this time.

I'm really enjoying these books by Cindy Miles. They are so refreshingly different. Fun, funny, and warm. Somehow believable, even as they are so crazily unbelievable. You can buy Highland Knight here or here. Her next book, MacGowan's Ghost is available February 2009. You can preorder it at Amazon.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

In Bed With the Devil by Lorraine Heath

In Bed With the DevilCourtesy of They call him the Devil Earl—a scoundrel and accused murderer who grew up on the violent London streets. A proper young lady risks more than her reputation when consorting with the roguishly handsome Lucian Langdon, but Lady Catherine Mabry believes she has no choice. To protect those she loves, she would do anything—even strike a bargain with the devil himself.

Lucian desires respectability and a wife above all else, but the woman of his choosing lacks the social graces to be accepted by the aristocracy. Catherine can help Lucian gain everything he wants. But what she asks for in exchange will put their very lives in jeopardy. When danger closes in, Catherine discovers a man of immense passion and he discovers a woman of immeasurable courage. As secrets from his dark past are revealed, Lucian begins to question everything he knows to be true, including the yearnings of his own heart.


What I liked: Not liked - I loved this book. I loved everything about it. It reminded me very much of an early Kleypas novel, in both its characters and its settings. I loved that the characters are not all from the aristocracy - they can be rough, yet we see them as human, not caricatures. Especially our hero - dare I say, he reminded me frequently of my favorite of all-time hero - Nick Gentry? Yes, I loved him that much. He's a rough around the edges guy, with a heart of gold that needed the right woman to see and accept him for himself, flaws and all. He grew up on the streets of London. Several parallels are drawn between the characters in this book and Dickens' Oliver Twist, both as allegory and overtly by Catherine as she compares Luke's upbringing to that of Oliver in the new Dickens novel she is currently reading.

I also loved that we see into Luke's personal journal. It was great that he kept a journal. What a fabulous way for Heath to let the reader into his thoughts and feelings. I love that he is overwhelmed by his feelings for Catherine, and that we, as readers, get to see that. I was also pleased that we see his journey toward recognizing that his feelings for Frannie, which he thought were true love, were those of boy-girl love, rather than man-woman love. It would have been wrong to leave that unresolved, and to witness Luke's internal journey toward that resolution was satisfying.

Catherine - excellent heroine. Strong. Doesn't put up with any of Luke's crap. She recognizes that hiring him to kill somebody is because she hasn't the know-how or the guts to do it herself, then second-guesses both of those reasons for much of the book. She is smart, gutsy, compassionate, audacious - Luke's perfect match.

The secondary cast of characters. I liked that Luke's circle of friends from his childhood all made something of themselves: a doctor, a Scotland Yard inspector, yes, even a gaming hell owner and a bookkeeper. They were all strong, interesting characters in their own right. The one I found the least intriguing, actually, was Frannie - Luke's intended. She seemed too milquetoasty for him.

What I didn't like: There was only one small thing I had an issue with, and that was that Luke and Frannie were so close, yet she never shared with Luke the real reason she didn't want to marry him. If she didn't feel more than sisterly love for him, she should have felt comfortable telling him. I always had the impression that she was in love with somebody else. Why had she not shared those feelings with him in the past? Small detail, really when the rest of the book truly overwhelmed me.

If you love those old Kleypas novels, where the heroes are the anti-hero, and the heroines are their strong, gutsy match, you will love this book. Luke has won a very special place in my heart. But no worries, Nick. You're still the man.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Wicked Hot (ARC) by Charlene Teglia

I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC of this book from Ms. Teglia. In the past, I've always really liked her books. I cracked this open, having not really known much about it, and imagine my surprise and (I admit) dismay, when I realized it was in first person. OK... I thought. I'll persevere. I've often said I need to expand my horizons, and this was the perfect opportunity. Stupid moment - I often read Charli's blog, and I won this ARC there. How did I not realize it was in first person? D-oh!


From the OBC: Cursed to roam the earth as a succubus for eternity, Edana offers men their most erotic fantasy in exchange for their mortal souls. As a demon, no human can get close enough to love her without being destroyed by her powers. But Eli Moss is a Nephilim, a descendent of a branch of angels who chose earth as their domain, married human women and taught them magic. For centuries, angels and demons alike ignored the Nephilim. Until one began to bind and banish demons - Eli.
Sent to tempt Eli into an act of lust and steal his soul, Edana soon discovers that his resistance enables him to touch her without weakening, and for the first time in her human life or demonic existence, she experiences the touch of a she must destroy before he destroys her.

What I liked: I liked Edana's journey toward self-discovery. She learns about herself through her interactions with Eli and Dal, Eli's brother. I also liked the friendship that sprung up between Edana and Dal. It was obviously unexpected for Edana, but even she appreciated the irony in it, and enjoyed learning about Eli through Dal's eyes.

Eli was a tremendously fascinating guy. For an angel, he seemed awfully conflicted, as did his brother. Because it was first person, it seemed a bit difficult to get into their personal issues and deliver a full-blown character study of the two men, which is a shame, because each of them was fascinating in their own right. What else? Well, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Teglia sure knows how to write a sex scene. Smokin'.

I do think that the bedroom was the place that we best saw into Eli's thoughts and feelings from Edana's perspectives - when he first begins to lose control. We see his facial expressions and his body language through Edana's eyes. I think this was as well done as it is possible to have done it without actually putting us into Eli's head. But this wasn't until near the end of the book, and I missed learning his thoughts before then except through a quirk of his mouth (which could truly mean anything).

I like Charlene Teglia's voice. I always have. There's just something very personable about the way that she writes. It makes you want to know her characters better.

What I didn't like: As I mentioned above, there is a lot of sex. A lot. Menages, sex between Edana and Dal, and between Edana and Eli. Granted, the female lead is a succubus, but still. I'm all for a good old fashioned menage, but I began to feel as though the sex became gratuitous, and angels having grauitous sex just seems wrong to me.

Also, as I said, Nephilim are a type of angels. First, let me say that these 2 guys seemed anything but angelic *wink wink*. A more wicked pair of guys, I don't think you'll come across. I'm all for a wicked good guy, however. But, we never saw Eli doing his good guy thing. I would have loved to see him in action (and not the 'in bed' action, which we saw plenty of) to see why Edana was sent to destroy him.

Which brings me to my final point. First person. I found Eli to be a really complex guy. He's probably the most interesting character in the book. All that leashed passion, and tight control. But because the book is in first person, we never get his perspective. And that was the one I really wanted to read about. It was as if he knew who he was and had a purpose, then this woman comes into his life and turns it all upside down. He seemed like such a conflicted, tortured guy once he met up with Edana. My favorite kind of hero. Through Edana's friendship and talks with Dal, Teglia tries to give us some insight into Eli, but it falls somewhat short, in my opinion.

To me, there's nothing better than actually getting into the head of the character that you are reading about. Granted, this is my own personal bias. I know that there are plenty of you out there who adore first person. And for those of you that do, Eli is definitely a fascinating character - intense, controlled, sexy as hell, heroic (or so we are told). I just prefer to know for myself what he is thinking and feeling. It's a personal POV preference.

So a mixed bag. I think, had this been in third person, I likely would have gotten more perspective, even during the sex scenes, and while I still likely would have found them gratuitous, I might have found them more of a plot-forwarding device than straight sex for sex's sake.

However, if you like a lot of sex, good writing, and first person, then you will likely love Wicked Hot. It is released July 22 from St. Martin's Press. Buy it here or here.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Running Wild by Sarah McCarty

Running Wild by Sarah McCartyLet's say this up front. Sarah McCarty writes an alpha like nobody's business. Her alphas are at once manly, macho, overbearing badasses, yet at the same time they are incredible softies who melt at the feet of their women and would do anything in the world for them. Wonderful, no?

Running Wild contains not one, not two, but three such fabulouso alphas. It's an anthology of connected, chronological stories about three werewolf men and the three sisters that they fall hard for. Now, while y'all know that I'm not a big paranormal fan, it seems to me I have read more than my share of werewolves lately. The one thing that is unnecessary in werewolf stories is the back and forth of "how do I feel about this person?" A wolf recognizes its mate immediately, and can get on to the business at hand, usually convincing their human mate of the same.

Sarah McCarty excels at strong characterization. You always know exactly who her men are, who their women are, and why they are who they are. You know where they are going, their motivation for getting there, and why they want what they want. This story is no exception. Characterization, as always, is terrific. You feel the connection between the sisters - their love for one another, their heartache, their inner strength. You can also feel the love and respect between Donovan, Kelon, and Wyatt. These are strong men, but compassionate men, full of life and love. This book also had a lot of unexpected humor in it, which I quite enjoyed - you all know what a sucker I am for the humor in a book.

Where I felt this book went wrong was in the story itself. While I did enjoy the premise, and actually alot more than I thought I would (why is it that I'm still surprised each time I like a werewolf story?), I took umbrage with a couple items in particular.

These werewolves, who have theoretically met their mates, use aphrodesiac in their saliva when they are kissing. It's not intentional - just inherent in their saliva. However, it's mentioned several times, and referenced in each of the three stories. Then, it's noted how each of the women is 'dazed' or 'glassy-eyed', or something of a similar nature, and she doesn't seem to know where she is, and it takes her a moment to come out of it. It made me feel as though these women were drugged, reminiscent of the stories I've heard of GHB or other date rape drugs. Now I know for a fact that isn't the intent here, but all the same - tell me that you're using an 'aphrodesiac' on a woman who doesn't know it, then she's all dazed, unaware of her surroundings, and you can basically do anything you want to her? Ummm.... nuff said.

When I mentioned this to a friend, she said it's not all that uncommon in werewolf stories. Really? Is that so? I can't recall ever reading one like that. Disclaimer: I'm NOT a werewolf expert! I've read maybe... 7 or 8 werewolf stories altogether in my entire life. So this very well may be.

Also, one of these women never seemed to truly accept her man as a werewolf. She refused to let him shift in front of her - never once saw him shift. Hard to imagine her accepting him as a werewolf if she won't even see him as he really is. Interestingly, she was seemingly the strongest of the three women on the surface. In the mark of a true expert, McCarty pulls the old bait & switch, and the sister who appears the weakest on the outside is actually the one with the most inner strength.

So.... a couple of big problems for me - unusual for me to find in a McCarty book. However, I believe that the historical western is where McCarty shines, and just have the niggling feeling that the paranormal is still a bit outside her comfort zone. Having said that, McCarty's other new release, the western historical Sam's Creed, second in the Hell's Eight series, was excellent. Loved it from start to finish.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Anne's June Reads

I'm not going to review them... sorry, I just don't have the time right now. But here's a list and the grade.

  1. Hotter After Midnight- Cynthia Eden: A
  2. Just Sex - Susan Kay Law: A
  3. At Last - Barbara Bretton: A-
  4. Ladies' Man - Suzanne Brockmann: B
  5. Once Around - Barbara Bretton: A-
  6. Close To You - JoAnn Ross: A-
  7. Promises To Keep - JoAnn Ross: B
  8. Traceless - Debra Webb: C+
  9. Taking The Heat - JoAnn Ross: A-
  10. Not Another Bad Date - Rachel Gibson: A
  11. Hot - Julia Harper: A-
  12. Wanting What You Get - Kathy Love: A-
  13. Getting What You Want - Kathy Love: B+
  14. Wanting Something More - Kathy Love: B+
  15. Once and Always - Judith McNaught: A-
  16. The McKetrrick Way - Linda Lael Miller: B+
  17. The Secret Passion of Simon Blackwell - Samantha James: C+
  18. Three Nights of Sin - Anne Mallory: B
  19. Right Here, Right Now - HelenKay Dimon: C-
  20. Sweet Talk - Susan Mallery: D (GAH! Sadness!!)
  21. Until You - Judith McNaught: C+
  22. Every Breath You Take - Judith McNaught: A

I was surprised to see I read so many, but then again I figure with my dad in the hospital and some of the books being very quick reads or books that I skimmed rather than read because they annoyed me, I can see how I read that number.

For two or three of the books I've read this month, I rated them lower because the heroine used sarcasm and smart-ass come backs way too much for my taste. Little zingers here and there... fine. All the time? Doesn't work for me. Makes me think the heroine is bitchy.

Some new-to-me authors like Cynthia Eden, Susan Kay Law, and Julia Harper were really great finds and I'll be looking forward to more from each of them. And I'll be reading the rest of the McNaught historicals as well. Yes, ladies, I do believe you've got me hooked. :-)
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