Monday, January 28, 2008

Beautiful Girl by Shiloh Walker

The Blurb: Sometimes getting to heaven requires a trip through hell.

Twelve years ago, it looked like Del Prescott had it all. The wealthy family, the car, the looks and charm, and the perfect boyfriend. Then, mysteriously, she disappeared to “study abroad.” Now she’s back, and it’s not merely to attend a high school reunion. She’s here to face her demons—and Blake, the man she has never stopped loving.

Blake Mitchell is a changed man, thanks to surviving twelve long years of difficulties that began after Del dropped out of his life. Now she’s back, and she’s nothing like the polished, stylish world traveler he imagined she’d be. There’s a darkness about her, and a grim expression in her eyes that says she’s prepared for fight or flight.

Blake’s concern for her breaks down the walls Del has built around her heart and she finally begins to heal from the abuse she suffered at the hands of her own family. But the betrayal goes deeper than either of them ever imagined—and it’s about to come back to haunt them.

Read An Excerpt.

Buy It Here.

As you know, I don't do summaries because generally when I do or when I read reviews of the same nature, I find too much of the plot is given away. And besides, Shiloh did a fabulous job with the blurb. It is a perfect summary of the book.

My Thoughts: I absolutely loved this book. In my opinion, this is one of the best books Ms. Walker has ever written... ranking right up there with Her Best Friend's Lover and His Christmas Cara which are my two favorite Shiloh Walker books evah.

Del is a strong heroine who has overcome so much and is still working her way back to normality. She comes home, though she doesn't want to, but after running into her cousin Vance, he passes her address on to Del's best friend from high school, Manda, who basically forces her back to Prescott, Tennessee. So, Del decides to face the past, deal with it once and for all, and hopefully move past it. She just didn't count on it being able to, after 12 years, bring her to her knees.

After 12 years away, Blake still pines for Del, not really knowing the depth of that emotion until he sees her. But the Del he once knew is no more. This is a harder Del, a cautious Del, and the fear he sees in her eyes makes him want to pound something or someone into the ground. Oh how I love him. He is a sigh-worthy hero, one that touched me and had me falling in love with him from the first moment of introduction. By no means has his life been easy since Del has been gone. Oh, no. He's had his own issues to deal with, but now, she's back, and he wants her to stay... with him. He makes no qualms about his feelings for her, no excuses. He's a man who admits to his feelings and doesn't pussy-foot around, hemming and hawing, and that to me makes him a unique hero as of late. When he finds out what happened in Del's past, he really wants to kick someone's ass, and who could blame him? But instead of doing that, he's there for Del, supporting her, helping her work through her issues, and giving her the one thing she needs: Love.

Beautiful Girl is Shiloh Walker at her best. The characters in the story come alive from the first page, and the emotions... This book is packed with emotional intensity that is so vivid, so real you can't help but want to protect Del and hug her, and fall in love with the amazing man that is Blake. God, what Del has had to deal with. The intensity of it broke my heart. I'm not ashamed to tell you I cried for her and with her. I also, like Blake, wanted to beat the hell out of someone, and also hug her and protect her from the horror that has haunted her since she was 16. I felt Del's pain, her fear, her torment. I felt Blake's anger, rage, and love.

I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for more than a superficial read, for someone who is looking for a story with substance, grit, and emotion. I recommend Beautiful Girl anyone and everyone. This story IS. THAT. GOOD. So good, in fact, that I must site a few examples (I asked permission first), just a few sentences or paragraphs that will give you a taste of how beautifully written this story really is.

Blake seeing Del for the first time.
She looked like she was dressed to fight, Blake realized. Well, maybe not fight. She didn’t look like she was out cruising for trouble, but she sure as hell looked ready to deal with it if it happened her way. This dark haired woman carried herself with a tense, wary grace, ready to defend herself or take off running. Like she’d had to do both in the past, and she was prepared to do either or both again.

The bell over the door chimed and Vance held the door open. The woman stepped through and Blake almost turned away. That wasn’t Deedee. But then her eyes met his and his heart stopped.

Oh, shit.

Those pretty, misty green eyes were unmistakable. He had dreamed about those eyes more times than he cared to remember. But her gaze wasn’t so soft now—hell, with the exception of the breasts straining under the thin cotton of her shirt, nothing about her looked soft.

She wasn’t just dressed to fight. She was prepared to fight.

And then...

She glanced at Blake. Sadness filled her. He was watching her with that same, intent stare she remembered from high school. Like she was the only person in the room. And it still had the weird affect of making her heart dance in her chest. If she wasn’t so screwed up inside… She cut off the what if thoughts before they could fully form.

What ifs were fairy tales and Del was damaged goods. She wasn’t so messed up that she couldn’t realize it was the victim inside her talking. She did all the things she knew she was supposed to. She had a small, select group of friends she could talk to and there was even a support group she hit when things got too rough. The other stuff, she dealt with, attending her meetings faithfully and she was determined she wouldn’t ever slide down the dark road she’d walked for so long.

But she was also realistic enough to know that getting past all her issues was still a long, long time coming. And it may never come.

And one last one... here's what I mean about Blake and his emotion.
She reared back with her head and caught him in the nose. Pain flared hot and bright but he didn’t let go.

He almost did, when she started to cry. Rage burned inside him, a slow fuse at first, but with every soft, muffled sob, it grew hotter and brighter until it felt like a supernova had settled inside his gut. He wanted to tear something apart with his hands. No. Someone. But he couldn’t do that until he knew who it was he had to kill.

Can't you just feel it? The intensity? God, I love it.

The only thing I would liked to have seen was for Del, just once, to have had the chance to belt Louisa Prescott Sanders. God, just once to give that amoral witch a good fist in her face would have had me clapping aloud.

Go buy the book. You're going to love it!

Read An Excerpt.

Buy It Here.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Quick Roundup of a Slew of Titles

Since I've been so busy at work, I've not had the time to truly review a title with the thought it's due. But I've still been reading. So I thought I'd at least give you a roundup on what I've read that I think worth your while. These are the e-books. I'll do another post of the print books. Again, my apologies, because these aren't reviews, but I wanted to share with you the titles I thought you'd enjoy, even though I seem to have no interest in reviewing right now. Not sure why...

The Hearts of the South series by Linda Winfree
What Mattered Most
Truth and Consequences
His Ordinary Life
Hold On To Me
Three out of the four were jaw-droppingly, heart-wrenchingly, emotionally satisfying reads. And the fourth was very very close. Winfree sucessfully combines intense love stories against the backdrop of a suspenseful tale. Simply fabulous, or as JB likes to put it, fucking fabulous books. The next book in the series is due out in March. All are available through Samhain.

Devils on Horseback: Nate by Beth Williamson
Love Williamson's western historicals. This is a post-civil war story (I hate to label it reconstructionist, because the story didn't strike me as that at all). Excellent read. Next up is Jake's story, available in March. Both from Samhain.

Annabelle's Courtship by Lucy Monroe
Good, but Monroe's books are always good. Anne, this one has the brogue. Available from Samhain.

To Do List by Lauren Dane
A quick read, but Dane manages to squeeze the love story in a believable way. The H/H have a longstanding relationship which helps the reader believe they could fall in love in such a short time. Excellent, as is every Dane book I've ever read. Available from Samhain.

Cascadia Wolves: Wolf Unbound by Lauren Dane
A different take on the wolf world, plus a D/s relationship thrown in the mix. Dane's strong voice made it work for me. Available from Samhain.

The Seduction of Shamus O'Rourke by NJ Walters
Another winner from NJ. This one has a twist that readers of the first in the Jamesville series will enjoy. As always, she gets right to the heart of the emotions within her characters. Available from Samhain.

Stealing Carmen by Gail Faulkner
Worth it just for the fact that it's written entirely from the POV of the hero. Great change of pace, and well done. Available from Ellora's Cave.

The Accidental Countess and Lessons in Seduction by Melissa Schroeder
Both part of the "Once Upon an Accident" series, these were excellent books. I enjoyed them. I'm hopeful that the next one is Anna and Daniel's, but I can't find out anything about it. These two books are available from Samhain. Also, has anyone read her contemps?

I know that it looks like I only shop at Samhain, but I've been too busy to read my Passionate Ink Notes newsletter, and that's where I usually get my TBB from other publishers. So if anyone knows of any other great ebooks out there from other publishers, let me know about them. You all know my tastes.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Shadow Music by Julie Garwood (last read of 07)

Title: Shadow Music
Author: Julie Garwood

Type: Historical Romance
Series: Connected, yes.

Why: Garwood is an auto-buy for me.

For Princess Gabrielle of St. Biel, Scotland is a land of stunning vistas, wild chieftains, treacherous glens, and steep shadows–skullduggery, betrayal, and now murder. Prized for her exquisite beauty, the daughter of one of England’s most influential barons, Gabrielle is also a perfect bargaining chip for a king who needs peace in the Highlands: King John has arranged Gabrielle’s marriage to a good and gentle laird. But this marriage will never take place.

For Gabrielle, everything changes in one last burst of freedom–when she and her guards come upon a scene of unimaginable cruelty. With one shot from her bow and arrow, Gabrielle takes a life, saves a life, and begins a war.

Within days, the Highlands are aflame with passions as a battle royal flares between enemies old and new. Having come to Scotland to be married, Gabrielle is instead entangled in Highland intrigue. For two sadistic noblemen, underestimating Gabrielle’s bravery and prowess may prove fatal. But thanks to a secret Gabrielle possesses, Colm MacHugh, the most feared man in Scotland, finds a new cause for courage. Under his penetrating gaze, neither Gabrielle’s body nor heart is safe.

Comments: First, it worked for me. Maybe not in the steal-your-breath way that Ransom or The Gift or many others from her body of work did, but it worked. Once I fell into the story, I couldn’t put it down. The magic was still there, just muted a bit when compared to the others.

Second, for me, Garwood couldn’t go wrong with the presence of Brodick (my all time favorite Garwood hero) or with the “I’ll take her as mine, under my protection” premise for the romance. I’m pure sucker for the latter and the Scottish Laird-English miss combination is, thanks to Garwood, my favorite backdrop for it.

Despite all of this, I’ll have to echo the comments of others. Garwood’s prose was lacking. Her narrative and POV was all over the board and it made for a disjointed read. Pulling the reader in, then losing the reader, pulling the reader in again, then losing us again. And so on. Overall, there was a void in characterization that hurt the telling of Gabrielle and Colm’s story.

Should she release another historical, I will be first in line. However, visiting Garwood’s website, I see only a cursory mention of Shadow Music and no mention of future historical releases. I’m not encouraged.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Lily Brand by Sandra Schwab

Title: The Lily Brand
Author: Sandra Schwab

Publisher: Dorchester
Type: Historical Romance

Series: No

Why: TBR list entry from eons ago. A blogger rec I’m sure.

Forever Marked: Troy Sacheverell, fifth earl of Ravenhurst, was captured in France. He'd gone to fight Napoleon, but what he found was much more sinister. Dragged from prison to an old French manor on the outskirts of civilization, he was purchased by a rich and twisted beauty. And more dangerous still was the stepdaughter who claimed him.

Lillian had not chosen to live with Camille, her stepmother, but none escaped the Black Widow's web. And on her nineteenth birthday, Lillian became Camille's heir. Her gift was a plaything: a man to end her naiveté, whose face and body were made for the boudoir. Yet even as Lillian did as she was told, marked that beautiful flesh and branded it with the flower of her name, all she desired was escape. In another place, in another world, she'd desired love. Now, looking into burning blue eyes, there was no place to run. No matter should she flee, no matter where she might go, she and this man were prisoners of passion, inextricably linked by the Lily Brand

So while her heart remains locked in ice, his burns with hate. Will they ever find true happiness?

Comments: Once I got past the disturbing events and images that start the book, I found a deeply emotional, hard-won romance. I’ll admit to having doubts. It was difficult to shake the terrifying humiliation both of these characters endured and move forward to the possibilities they share. Schwab’s intent of course, and beautifully done.

Instead of leaving readers on the outside looking in, she holds us in the same strangling grip of remorse and shame that Troy and Lillian suffer. Like these characters, particularly Lillian, we move rigidly, cautiously ahead, sure that the grip will never be broken. Survival is the reigning emotion here. Schwab is brutally honest with emotion and circumstances throughout. She does not stoop to using passion as salve or titled arrogance as protection against evil. Troy and Lillian do not “find” each other through a mutual passion and both remain highly vulnerable—regardless of position or societal rank. In this sense, The Lily Brand was as far from a typical historical romance as you can get.

Schwab’s prose is as compelling as her characterization skills. Without stumbling, she immerses the reader in the story, enveloping us in rich detail, palpable emotion and stark fear. So despite the discomfort, we remain committed. I like a book that can command my attention like that. An author that can compel me to keep reading.

To Save You Some Time: Schwab’s latest book is Castle Of The Wolf, released in May, 2007. I don’t recall any buzz about this one, but its blurb and my appreciation for The Lily Brand have put it on my TBR list. Next up for her is Bewitched due out in April, 2008. COTW looks to be historical romance; Bewitched appears to be fantasy or paranormal (wherever you lump stories with magic in them).

Rhett Butler's People by Donald McCaig

The Authorized Novel Based on Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind

Not long ago, I posted over on Let's Gab about Rhett Butler being one of my favorite heroes. Here's what I said about him: "Smooth talking, slick. Yet vulnerable, too. He loves Scarlett, and makes no excuses for her. He accepts her for who she is. Even loves her for it. That’s seductive."

This book is about Rhett's family history - his people and friends, and Gone With the Wind from his perspective. Truly an interesting, fascinating, sad, depressing, and fabulous book. And indeed, Rhett comes across as all those things I quoted above, and more.

In GWTW, Rhett is this larger than life character, who swoops in to save the day, save Tara, save Scarlett, and be the all-around rakish hero to Ashley's milquetoasty boring good-guy. Rhett Butler's People delves into Rhett's background, his father's cruel treatment of him and of the slaves they owned, and shows Rhett's total lack of prejudice; in fact his closeness to the slaves on the rice plantation. So close that he works the fields with them.

We see Rhett as a flawed character; loving, idealistic, and then having his ideals trampled upon by his own parent. This sets him up for his entire story. We see him head over heels in love with Scarlett, knowing that she cares not one whit for him, except in the bedroom. We see his love for his friends. We see him take on a father role for a boy not his. We see his love for his little sister, and for his friends. Does he sound too good to be true? Not at all. Our first glimpse of him is on the dueling field, shooting and killing his opponent and walking away without a backward glance.

McCaig paints a full and interesting portrait. I was completely caught up. It was so not what I was expecting. The secondary characters are not really secondary at all. Rhett's sister, his friend Andrew Ravanel, Melanie Wilkes, Scarlett, even Ashley plays a large role.
McCaig writes Rhett beautifully. When he gives Scarlett the yellow scarf as a token of his love and then returns to see it on Ashley as a sash on his new uniform, you can feel his heart break.
When Rhett is forced to kill his childhood best friend in order to save him from hanging (he's black and was set up by the KKK in the post-war South), you feel his heart break.
*****END SPOILER*****
This was a fabulous character study, and an interesting history lesson, although several liberties were taken with the history, placing our characters into historical battles, and into conversations with Congressmen and other political figures. It begins several years before the war, and ends several years after.
If you are a GWTW fan, I highly recommend this book. It kept me riveted. I fell deeper in love with Rhett than before. He's immensely human, tremendously flawed, exceptionally vulnerable, and extremely likeable despite all his flaws.
The rest of "his people" are equally as riveting, heartbreaking, poignant, and touching. Read Rhett Butler's People, people. There is also a web site devoted to the book:

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Lori's 2007 Roundup

Well, the year started out with a bang for me, and unfortunately ended with a fizzle. Mostly due to my work schedule, I'm sure. I'm committed to doing more reading and more reviewing, even with my hectic work schedule. But, I wanted to get my year in review up, too. In no particular order, here are some of my favorite reads of 2007:

1. Karen Rose's first 4 books: I couldn't pick one - they were all do fan-fricken-tastic. Don't Tell, Have You Seen Her, I'm Watching You, and Nothing to Fear were all wonderfully written, tight, intense, romantic suspense books. Rose's characterization is excellent, and her multiple POVs are perfectly done. The other 2 released this year - You Can't Hide and Count to Ten were equally as intense and fabulous. Rose will make the leap to HC in 2008 (Damn it!).

2. Jacob by Jacquelyn Frank: This was a completely new world for me, and the first paranormal I just couldn't put down. Isabella brought me out of a slump of heroine-hating. A+ to Frank for that alone! If only Gideon could have lived up to this one. (Side note - I dug Elijah!)

3. Last Words by Mariah Stewart: Highly suspenseful and emotional, I was pulled into the story of Mia and Beck from the get-go. Stewart has written another strong, capable, yet vulnerable heroine, along with another flawed, yet thoughtful and thoroughly wonderful hero. Her descriptive text is flawless, her characterizations are deep and appropriate, and her sense of suspense is terrific.

4. Something Wonderful by Judith McNaught: This book was just amazing, and it sent me on a McNaught glom. McNaught's writing paints beautiful pictures, and seeing Jordan and his autocratic, cynical grandmother both melt under Alex's wide-eyed excitement for life made me remember why I started reading romance lo those many years ago. Jordan is a fabulous hero, and Alex the perfect heroine for him.

5. The Viscount in Her Bedroom by Gayle Callen: There was nothing I didn't like about this book. Great hero, great heroine, wonderful story. This was a heartwarming, touching story, filled with love and humor.

6. The Raven Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt: Who didn't have one of this trilogy on their top 10? Wow - what a find Hoyt is. This was my favorite by far of the trilogy. I just adored Edward. Hoyt writes fabulously well. The entire trilogy is fan-dam-tastic. I can't wait to see what she comes up with next.

7. A Passion for Him by Sylvia Day: Day's writing gets better with each book she releases. More mature, more depth. The emotions and romances she portrays are among the best in the business. This series got a bit bogged down in the suspense, but the romance between the hero and heroine in this book reads like a how-to. Simply beautiful.

8. Kiss Me While I Sleep by Linda Howard: Another author I discovered this year. How did I go so long without reading a Howard? This sent me on a glom par excellence! The story was well thought out, and took enough twists and turns to keep me interested, but wasn't so convoluted that I gave up in frustration. It was a terrific twist to have the heroine be an assassin. Howard built a tremendous amount of character into Lily. And, even though the surface of Lucas was kept light and fluffy, she let us see inside to know who he was underneath, so that I grew to care about him. Wonderfully written book. But the interaction and dialogue between the H&H is where this book shined. The dialogue was fabulous! Loved this one.

Honorable mentions:
Ascension by Lauren Dane: What sets this one apart for me? Simple. Lauren Dane. Her voice, her characters.
Caine's Reckoning by Sarah McCarty: Her heroines are women who should be broken by their life experiences, yet somehow discover a strength within themselves that brings their men to their knees. And Sarah McCarty does write just the most fabulous sensitive uber-alphas. Just wonderful.
Secondhand Bride by Linda Lael Miller: Jeb and Chloe's story was my favorite. This was a terrific book, filled with fun, laughter, heartbreak, forgiveness, alpha ego, female bonding, and strong family ties.

I was totally psyched to find a few new-to-me authors. Judith McNaught and Linda Howard have been writing fabulous books forever, and how it was that I hadn't read them before I'll never know. But thank goodness I discovered them this year! And I'm happy I found the McKettrick books as well from Linda Lael Miller.

Brand-spankin'-new authors Hoyt and Frank were a find indeed. Although Gideon was a dud compared to Jacob, Elijah was a terrific book (I never did review it, but I read it a couple weeks ago and did like it almost as much as Jacob).

And what a find is Karen Rose? I think she has taken the RS world by storm! Has anyone ever made the leap to hardcover so quickly? My rant on HCs for a 3rd year in a row now notwithstanding, I'm thrilled for her.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

2007 Reads In Review

I feel compelled to do this now that I saw Jennifer did hers, but mine won't be nearly as organized LOL

Like Jennifer, included in my top reads were:
  • 1) Nalini Singh as well, but mostly Slave to Sensation and Visions of Heat. Caressed by Ice was good, but not up to the caliber of the first two.
  • 2) I also Megan Hart's Broken and Dirty. Great reads.

One's JB didn't mention that I thought were great:
  • 1) Second Time Around by Marie Ferrarella. Wonderful story.
  • 2) The Me I Used To Be by Jennifer Archer. Bawled my eyes out. Loved it.
  • 3) Then there's Mallery's Her Last First Date, witty and fun.
  • 4) McCarty's Caine's Reckoning. Hot, sexy, Alpha... another great McCarty.
  • 5) High Noon by NR.
  • 6) Innocent In Death by JD Robb... all of them really. Thoroughly enjoy them, every single time.
  • 7) Up Close & Dangerous by Linda Howard
  • 8) Seven-Year Seduction by Heidi Betts
Last year I discovered JD Robb and the In Death series, so I got to read all the back stories in the series and wheeeee was that awesome! This year, after much apprehension on my part, after much urging by way of Sarah McCarty, Jennifer, and the Mobettes who were talking about Julie Garwood's historicals, specifically The Bride, I felt it was time to take the plunge... and Lord am I glad I did. The Bride, The Wedding... The McBain...GRRR. This year I discovered HIGHLANDERS!!! And I devoured as many highlander books as I possibly could from Monica McCarty to Karen Hawkins, Karen Ranney to Melissa Mayhue. They were all great and enjoyable highlanders, but none of them compare to Garwoods. NONE.

I'm so sure I'm leaving something out, but

All in all it was a good year for me reading wise. I read 143 books total and out of that I only had 3 DNFs. Not bad.

2007 Year In Review

Hmmmm. I read 43 fewer books this year than last—with more time on my hands this year than in previous, employed years. As with other aspects of my life, I think the worry and stress associated with not working proved more a distraction this past year than the hectic, work-filled days of the years before it. I accomplished so much more with less time back then. LOL

I also hit more than one reading slump this year. First I went on a contemporary binge and, because I’m less familiar with good contemp authors, I quickly ran out of books to feed that binge. Second, I hit a run of not-so-good books that slowed me down a bit. Unusual for me as I’m not all that hard to please.

Looking back, there were very few Wow reads. And even fewer new-to-me authors that excited.

In 2006, I fell in love with paranormals courtesy of Marjorie Liu and Maria V. Snyder. And borderline-despicable heroes thanks to Anne Stuart. And military alphas that truly command via Gennita Low. Oh, and bad-ass adolescents by way of Tara Janzen and J.R. Ward. To feed my historical hunger, I worked my way through the best of Lisa Kleypas and Loretta Chase. And found Lisa Valdez. All standouts.

In 2007, Liu continued to impress with A Dream of Stone and Shadow, Eye of Heaven and Soul Song. I kept going with Stuart’s Ice Blue and another half dozen of her older titles. Gennita Low gave me one of the few Wow reads with Virtually His. Janzen’s On The Loose and Ward’s Lover Revealed were runner-up Wow reads. Snyder and Valdez were no-shows and Kleypas’ Mine Til Midnight is still on my TBR list.

There were also two authors that captured my attention at the very end of 06—Ashley Gardner and Elin Hilderbrand. Their backlists provided some of the best of 07 reading as well.

For all that, 2007 felt very much like a follow-up year to 2006—kind of like I was tidying up after the new finds of 06.

As for the shiny new, I found Nalini Singh, Elizabeth Hoyt and Renee Bernard. Then there was Megan Hart. All additions to my auto-buy list. The highest praise you’ll see here.

The list, in no particular order, goes something like this:

1) Nalini Singh: Slave To Sensation, Visions Of Heat, Caressed By Ice
2) Elizabeth Hoyt: The Raven Prince, The Leopard Prince, The Serpent Prince
3) Renee Bernard: A Lady’s Pleasure, Madame’s Deception
4) Gennita Low: Virtually His
5) Jamie Denton: The Matchmaker
6) Megan Hart: Dirty, Broken
7) JR Ward: Lover Revealed
8) Tara Janzen: On The Loose
9) Ashley Gardner: Captain Lacey Regency Mystery series

Honorable Mentions:

· Lydia Joyce: Whispers Of The Night, Voices Of The Night
· Deborah Smith: Sweet Hush, Crossroads Café
· Jo Goodman: Devilish, A Season To Be Sinful
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