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 "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

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
The Good, The Bad and The Unread
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 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.


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.
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