Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Madame’s Deception by Renee Bernard

Title: Madame’s Deception
Author: Renee Bernard

Publisher: Pocket Books
Type: Historical Romance
Series: Second in her Mistress Trilogy

Why: I loved A Lady’s Pleasure, the first in this trilogy.


Seeking revenge, she discovers how delicious a case of mistaken identity can be....

Merriam Everett has always been regarded as a shy, docile creature. But for one night, Merriam the Mouse has become a temptress who will recklessly take her pleasure with the arrogant earl who once slighted her, and then leave him aching with lust. A fine plan, if Merriam had not just seduced the wrong rogue!

Drake Sotherton left England amid dark speculation and has returned to seek vengeance against Julian Clay, the man he believes murdered his wife. Convinced that the masked beauty who seduced him is Julian's pawn, Drake tracks her down and proposes that she become his mistress for the Season. Every sensual desire, every secret longing will be explored...and fulfilled.

Comments: This will be one of those rare occurrences where I have to go out and buy the book for my keeper shelf. It was that good.

Bernard, like the handful of others on my keeper shelf, devotes her pen to characterization. She puts readers in the company of her romantic couple for much of the book, in scenes that are long and unhurried. There is banter and play, sharing and insight, and enough physical exploration to steam the windows. All behind a door that locks them away from the outside world. And while Bernard does include passages of internal thought on the impossibility of their love, she does so sparingly, choosing instead to show readers their pain, their hope through gestures, intense, desperate lovemaking and emotionally-wrought silences. It’s beautiful and heart wrenching, a sensory experience for the reader.

There are external forces of course: secondary characters there to support Jocelyn and Alex, a murder mystery and the unavoidable role or implication of society rules. Bernard weaves all however, into a coherent, well-balanced story with Jocelyn and Alex at center stage. You never take your eyes off of them.

Clean voice, emotional depth, eroticism, gorgeous covers. Keeper shelf.

To Save You Some Time: A Rogue’s Game is due out April, 2008.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Remain Silent by Jamie Denton

Title: Remain Silent
Author: Jamie Denton

Publisher: Kensington Brava
Type: Romantic Suspense
Series: No

Why: A blogger turned me on to Denton’s The Matchmaker last year. It was a fabulous read and I promptly added Denton to my must-read list. Remain Silent is her newest release.

Laurel Jennings may be an expert at art restoration, but she’s a novice at the justice system. When her business partner Jonathan Linton is found dead and she’s charged with the brutal murder, she needs help – fast. But with the powerful Linton family wielding their vengeful influence, the only lawyer willing to represent her is her former lover.

Damon walked away from the L.A. County DA’s office when his star witness in an infamous drug lord’s trial was gunned down on her way to protective custody. Protecting Laurel is Damon’s first priority – even if she has made it clear he’s the last man she wants representing her.

A chance discovery throws Damon and Laurel into a conspiracy that could rock the art world to its very foundation – with deadly consequences. With only each other to turn to, Laurel and Damon find the passion that once burned between them is a dangerous risk when betrayal lies at the heart of Jonathan’s murder – and the body count keeps rising. To protect the future, and keep the past buried, Laurel and Damon will have to stay together, keep calm, and remain silent…

Comments: Came close to being a DNF. I think it was my love for The Matchmaker that kept me reading, certain I was missing something in this one, certain I’d find it around the next corner. It never came together for me.

Denton’s characterization was almost there. She gave breath to the hero, Damon, and a key secondary character, a detective. These two came to life and lent the only realism to Denton’s story. The heroine, Laurel, fell flat. Charged with the murder of her closest friend and business partner, she spends far too much time, IMO, lusting after the hero while mentally pushing him away from perceived danger. And I say perceived because Denton’s villain (one of them) is a cloak and dagger organization with government origins and ever-reaching, evil power. It was too over-the-top for this story and aside from some dangling references to their murder of Damon’s father, the mystery organization made no attempt to harm Damon or Laurel. As backstory for Laurel, this plotline failed to add depth. And instead of adding to the suspense, it confused matters and left me wondering what the hell all that had been about.

Laurel remained shallow where I think Denton intended her to be an emotionally tortured outsider. I saw passages of internal thought—likely meant to elicit sympathy—as nothing more than the whining of a self-absorbed single professional woman. In circumstances that would reduce even the strongest woman to fear-induced paralysis, Laurel naively behaves as though it is not happening to her. Only Damon understands her, only Damon can see the heart that beats beneath her cool exterior. I didn’t believe it, even when their physical chemistry and tenderness shine through the confusion. Those scenes were moving and steamy at the same time, but I was left feeling that Damon deserved better. Denton very simply failed to give me a heroine I could like or respect. I spent the whole book thinking that Laurel just didn’t get it.

The true villain was also over-the-top. We get this character’s POV throughout and it was cookie-cutter female venom. When Denton reveals that she single-handedly, easily even, murdered an international thief known for his prowess, I almost put the book down. Not only did the action fray an already weak plot, it in no way reflected the abilities or power of the villain Denton had thus far introduced. Later, when her identity is revealed, the pieces still do not fall into place. The villain, her motivation and her ability to pull any of this off remain paper-thin.

So, nothing came together and I was sorry I even bothered to work my way to the end. Where The Matchmaker was a tightly woven romantic thriller, Remain Silent was splintered beyond repair. IMO.

To Be Fair: My mindset of late has sucked. My attention span sucks and I’m irritable beyond the usual PMS excuse. Had I been in a better state of mind, Laurel may have clicked for me. And if I had liked her more, this review would have more positive thoughts on characterization to counterpoint those on its weak plot. Denton's voice is there, her writing clean. In short, just because none of it worked for me, doesn’t mean it will fail everyone else.

For what it’s worth: Denton’s backlist includes a whole slew of category titles. I’m not a big fan of categories, but will keep my eye out for some of these anyway. She wowed me with The Matchmaker and I’m sure I’ll find another gem in here somewhere. Her next Kensington Brava is Dead Stop and it’s due out in September, 2008. I’ll read that one as well.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Lover Unbound by JR Ward

Title: Lover Unbound
Author: J.R. Ward

Publisher: Signet
Copyright: 2007
Series: Yes, Black Dagger Brotherhood

Why: Crack addict? Yeah, something like that.


Ruthless and brilliant, Vishous son of the Bloodletter possesses a destructive curse and a frightening ability to see the future. As a pretrans growing up in his father's war camp, he was tormented and abused. As a member of the Brotherhood, he has no interest in love or emotion, only the battle with the Lessening Society. But when a mortal injury puts him in the care of a human surgeon, Dr. Jane Whitcomb compels him to reveal his inner pain and taste true pleasure for the first time- until a destiny he didn't choose takes him into a future that cannot include her.

Comments: I read this blind. IOW, I avoided reading all reviews prior to picking up the book. I did however, pick up on the negative buzz and let that influence my timeframe. So, despite the intentions I voiced after Butch’s story, I did not run right out and buy V’s book.

As I read Lover Unbound, I wondered about the negative buzz. I also wondered whether this would be another instance where I love a book that everyone else hates. It didn’t turn out to be that cut and dry. While I didn’t hate Lover Unbound, I wasn’t over the top in love with it either. And while I’m not compelled to berate Ward, I’m not moved to ardently defend her either. I simply landed somewhere in the middle.

I did go back and read those reviews. I saw more than a few valid points, but personally found that my enjoyment of the book—my immersion in Ward’s world—overshadowed those points. It is testament to Ward’s talent for world-building that I lost myself in the telling of this story. Content in this world, I never got the sense that Lover Unbound was busy. It didn’t feel weighted down or splintered by its multiple story arcs. It felt rather like episodic television—regularly scheduled time spent with a beloved cast. I enjoyed my time just fine throughout most of this episode.

Of the handful that received significant air time (over and above V and Jane), I was most interested by John’s development. He feels like the key to me, like somehow it will be him, his fate that will dictate the future of the brotherhood. I like that kind of promise in a character. That Ward has aligned him with my favorite brother—Zsadist—only makes me like him more.

As for the primary romance, I have to say I liked Jane. She was worthy of V. Sounds fangirl-foolish, true, but I’ll remind you how much I loved V in Lover Revealed. At the conclusion of that book, I thought V more deserving of love than any other character I met last year. His story of unrequited love (for Butch) was heart-wrenching and, though I couldn’t imagine it possible, I wanted a love interest that could heal him. Jane was a good match. I would have preferred their initial connection to be a bit more than molecular, but all in all I was ok with the selection of her as his mate. She measured up, in a second to Butch kind of way.

The outcome of the romance however, along with the rest of the events occurring at the end of this book, didn’t measure up. Things did fall apart there at the end; one of the most common complaints I can agree on without compunction. The Scribe Virgin’s seemingly sudden inability to make things right, the fraying of Ward’s thread on choice versus destiny, V’s uncharacteristic failure to heed the warnings—however ambiguous—in his visions, all of it. Instead of the fantastic convergence of forces I’ve come to expect from Ward (thinking particularly back to that phenomenal light show at the end of Lover Revealed), the events that closed Lover Unbound felt disconnected, unreal. Yes, the events in this paranormal, felt unreal. Can think of no other way to explain the feeling.

I’m not sorry I read it and I still look forward to more time in Ward’s world. But I will say that going forward, it will be interesting to see how I, as the reader, will adjust to the changes in Ward’s world that did not sit well.

To Save You Some Time: Readers new to Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood can start this series with Dark Lover. Readers who plan to continue can look for Lover Enshrined in June, 2008.

Monday, December 03, 2007

A Season To Be Sinful by Jo Goodman

Title: A Season To Be Sinful
Author: Jo Goodman

Type: Historical Romance
Series: No

Publisher: Zebra Books
Copyright: 2005

Why: LOL. It was an accident really. Some time back, I read a Jo Beverly title. Then another. Really liked the first one, Devilish; the second was a DNF, The Dragon’s Bride. I mentally categorized Beverly as a hit-or-miss author for me and remained open to trying her other books. At some point, I picked up A Season To Be Sinful and tossed it on my TBR stack. No rec for it, just liked the blurb. Read it this week and loved it. THEN realized it was a Jo GOODMAN title, not Jo BEVERLY. Guess my head is still elsewhere. So, I read this one by happy accident and now find myself echoing Casee’s comments—where has Jo Goodman been all my reading life?


Alexander Grantham, Viscount Sheridan, is stunned to find three young boys at his door, demanding he right the wrongs of an incident that occurred earlier that evening when he thwarted a determined thief. When he discovers his wily pickpocket is a woman, now gravely injured, he takes his flame-haired attacker under his wing. Clearly, Sheridan's new "guest" is a lady of quality. So how did she become a common street thief? He finds himself irresistibly drawn the to clever, cheeky Lily, and determined to unlock her mysteries...

The five years since she left the care of the French convent have been a nightmare for Lily. Her secrets are dangerous-as is the powerful man determined to find her.

The handsome Viscount is clearly a gentleman with secrets of his own, but staying with him could mean the difference between life and death for Lily. With each passing day, her handsome host Lily's convalescence into an increasingly sensual escape. Now her greatest challenge may imagining anything less than a future in his arms...

Comments: Though only two years old, A Season To Be Sinful harkens back to the historical romances that secured our lifelong patronage of the genre. This book has absolutely everything we love as romance readers.

Hero: A Viscount with a quiet, but commanding presence—fueled almost entirely by his wry sense of humor. Goodman draws his character, his breath from that humor; using it to color his perspective of life, duty and heart. It is what opens him—mind and heart—to three street urchins and the battered woman devoted to them. Flat-out, this guy is the consummate smart-ass, with no trace of bitterness and only the most self-deprecating sense of arrogance or superiority. He is innately compassionate, highly intelligent and possessed of remarkable patience. I wanted to spend the entire book in his company. He is both entertaining and reassuring.

Heroine: Goodman begins the book with a spine-chilling threat to Lily, an innocent raised in a French convent. Then keeps the reader in the dark about which fate the young Lily met. As a grown woman, it is clear that whatever her experiences, they have made her stronger, wiser. And the ultimate pragmatist—wielding a perspective much like the hero. Not a victim and with a core of compassion that endures.

She does hold a great deal back—both information and emotion. As a result, some of her actions, particularly when it comes to matters of intimacy, take the reader by surprise. As Goodman refuses to follow any formula here, the reader must continue to trust Sheridan’s patience and tact. These scenes are deeply emotional and surprisingly erotic. Goodman captures those slow measures of trust beautifully and again, leaves me wondering why I’ve not heard more about her. Is it simply because she is already a fixture on auto-buy lists everywhere?

Secondary Characters: Goodman surrounds Lily and Sherry with perfect reflections of their appreciation and humor for life. The three boys attached to Lily contribute as much charm and vulnerability to the story as Lily and Sherry do. And Sherry’s Aunt is clearly the hand that guided him through life’s tragedies keeping his compassion, pragmatism and humor intact. Each of these characters strengthens the story’s tapestry, providing plenty of laughs AND ensuring that the reader remains emotionally vested in the story.

Overall, I think the story is well paced because it is powered by the development of relationships and never in danger of being overwhelmed by plot. There is a villain, more than a few secrets and the requisite obstacle to an HEA. Goodman’s focus on character however, lends realism where it counts. Circumstances and challenges are exactly that; neither takes on a life of its own, neither is allowed to drive the story. Instead, Goodman lets her characters DEAL.

Loved it.

To Save You Some Time: Goodman has an extensive backlist featuring stand-alone titles and a number of series. She also has a new release, If His Kiss Is Wicked.
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