Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Little reviews

In lieu of full-blown reviews, here are some thoughts on the non-Highlander books I’ve read since January.

Claiming The Courtesan by Anna Campbell
Blogger buzz and controversy led me to this title. Long after the group discussion, I have to agree with most, the rape put me ill at ease and despite the emotional depth of both hero and heroine, this violence and its aftermath permeated the rest of the story. It was a well-told story, emotionally complex and challenging. But the darkness never truly lifted. And I’m not suggesting that it should have. It was a powerful story as written and any argument about genre classification or HEA authenticity wouldn’t convince me to forego this one. Didn’t obviously. Not a Wow read for me, but an affecting one nonetheless.

Scent Of Darkness and Touch Of Darkness by Christina Dodd
I mention these titles because I wanted to comment on world building. Jane at DA brought it up yesterday, and it called to mind this series. Jane asked if we were getting pickier when it comes to the level of world building in paranormals and fantasy. I’d say yes, given the overwhelming number of titles to choose from and the benchmarks set by the likes of Liu and Singh. Take these Dodd titles for example. I liked them, but would simply call them ‘ok’. Nothing that stands out, but in essence, they are well written, with three-dimensional characters occupying interesting worlds and forms. All the right elements, but no grab. Could hinge on the complexity of the world. Singh’s Psy-Changeling world has much, much more in play than Dodd’s tale of cursed shape-shifter siblings. It may also hinge on the degree of HEA impossibility, for lack of a better phrase. Both Singh and Liu (for example’s sake) give us circumstances bound to prevent a coupling. And not just external circumstances, but mechanisms and experiences internal to each character that render their HEA harder won. In Dodd’s world, an interesting one like I said, the obstacles still lack punch. They are old-fashioned even—can a human love another who takes animal form? If yes, can they overcome said animal’s curse? Seems to me we need more now, like we’ve already—as readers—discovered that yes, we can love a hero that shifts. So, for Dodd’s titles, they were decent reads. But I’m not sure I’ll keep going when I have so many others in the stack.

Cutting Loose by Tara Janzen
I loved this one. Flat out loved it. I will always, always go back to Janzen for more. Had I the gumption back when I finished it, I could have gushed up a full-length review. Looking back on it in my book log however, all I can say is that I loved every single minute of it. Can’t single any one thing or character out. All good. Looking at her website today, I see mention of Loose and Easy, and Loose Change. No word on when, but I’ll be ready and waiting.

And Then He Kissed Her by Laura Lee Guhrke
Blogger buzz led me to this title as well. But honestly, sitting here recapping my reads, I couldn’t remember a thing said about it and I couldn’t recall a single detail about the book. After looking it up online, I remember the story. But that’s it. Don’t recall my immediate reaction or feeling, or anything in particular about Guhrke’s telling. Looks like she has more titles than I expected. Maybe I thought her a new author based on the buzz. No telling. Given that I read a lot less now, I’m not inclined to search out any more of her titles. Again, too many others to choose from right now.

Tempted by Megan Hart
This is another book worthy of a full-length, thoughtful review. I was simply never able to find the words. Loved it, as I have Hart’s previous titles. Was moved, touched by the struggle Anne found in loving more than one. Powerful stuff. And really, I can’t share my thoughts on any of it in just a short space. Maybe I’ll get to the whole review after a reread.

The Mad, Bad Duke by Jennifer Ashley
I loved, loved, loved the Captain Lacey mysteries Jennifer Ashley penned under the name of Ashley Gardner. This was my first romance by her and she did not disappoint. Surprised me though. I was unaware that The Mad, Bad Duke was a paranormal. Not a secret I’m sure, just something I failed to notice when selecting the book. I picked it for no other reason than the fact that she wrote it. So, paranormal elements aside, Ashley’s voice captivated; different than the Lacey series as those were written in first person, but equally good—tight, clean prose. That was what I was looking for—the writing style and skill I found in those first books. The paranormal elements—shape-shifting, spells, etc.—were interesting, particularly in a historical setting, and the romance was both moving and spicy. I’d easily recommend Ashley’s books to those who like paranormals. I also plan to go back and pick the book I believe comes before this one, before moving on to her Highlander titles.

Strangers In Death by J.D. Robb
Like coming home. Always.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Dear Santa by Karen Templeton

I loved this book, although I'm not a big fan of category because I prefer a longer story. Somehow though, Ms. Templeton has managed to give depth to her characters in only 236 pages.

His daughter's birth made him a father.
Becoming a daddy would take a bit longer.…

Connecticut mogul Grant Braeburn never thought he was father material, even though his nearly four-year-old daughter should have convinced him otherwise. But then his ex-wife's death made him Haley's permanent parent. Her only parent. He needed help, in a hurry.

It came in the form of Mia Vaccaro, the lively, lovely party planner who had been his ex-wife's best friend. Mia was the only one who could touch Haley's broken heart. And, Grant was becoming increasingly aware, his as well.…

I can't remember laughing through a book as often as I did while reading Dear Santa. What's remarkable about this is, it isn't a comedy. Both Grant and Mia are dealing with tough issues. He was raised to suppress all emotions so when he's faced with helping his three year old daughter deal with the death of her mother, he's clueless. Mia's former fiance left her 6 weeks before their wedding with no explanations. Luckily, Mia comes from a large, loving family and she's able to help Grant with his daughter, Haley. I'd love to quote a passage that would illustrate the humor but I'm not sure it works without the build-up and knowing the characters. Ms. Templeton delivers humor like a talented comic, her timing, word choice and delivery are perfect. It always seemed to catch me by surprise and I would burst out laughing before I could stop it.

I'm hoping this unique turn of phrase which makes me laugh is Templeton's voice and will be present in all her books. This is the first in a series she's doing called Guys and Daughters. The next two books deal with Mia's brothers.

I'd give this a grade of A.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Craving Contemporaries!

Huge cravings for contemporaries... HUGE! These are all recent reads and I enjoyed each and every one of them--two rereads, three new reads.

This is a fabulous book and I love, love, love Harley. With a name as macho as that, how could you not? This one has Barber in it as well. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to the next book in the series.

Sometimes Fate delivers a left hook.

After Fate deals Supreme Battle Challenge (SBC) fighter Harley Handleman a sucker punch, his uncle secretly hires a pretty lifecoach to get Harley back in the ring of life. Anastasia Kelley has actually known Harley for years, but never as well as she's going to now. Hot for his fighter's form, she has trouble keeping it professional, especially since Harley doesn't know she was hired. And when Anastasia turns the tables on him, it's as if he's been hit below the belt. But that's also where is uncontrollable lust for her burns.

Loved this book--and I lately I normally don't like Blaze books! Ms. O'Reilly has a great voice and weaves a great story. I'm already looking forward to the next two books in the series!

As a student and part-time bartender in Manhattan, Tessa Hart has found that a succession of roomies and cramped apartments are necessary evils in her life. Until she's out on the street and Gabe O'Sullivan, her mentor, boss and certified babe-magnet, steps in.

Any other woman would die to share his apartment—not to mention his bed—but Tessa's determined that they should stay just friends. The fiercely independent mixologist has to prove to their skeptical coworkers at Prime—the O'Sullivans' hot Manhattan bar—that the arrangement is strictly hands-off! But Tessa has trouble adhering to her own "no touching" rule when the actual sharing of close quarters day and night leaves her shaken and stirred….

Another good book by Ms. O'Reilly. Not as good as the one above, but good enough that I'm going to be searching out her stuff methinks.

When Amanda Sedgewick runs out of nice ways to say "no way" to dating Dr. Avery Barrington, she dumps her defensive posturing and goes on the offensive. she signs up Joe, Avery's young hung of a brother, for a faux fling.

Truth be told, Amanda's always had the hots for the laid-back, rough-around-the-edges, drop-dead-gorgeous Joe. But how to turn a fantasy into a reality? As a successful attorney, Amanda spends her days being convincing in the courtroom; how she wants to spend her nights being convincing in the bedroom--with Joe. He wants to play it careful--no pressure, no risk--until the sexual sparks soon cost them everything!

This is a reread, but I love this book. One of Lori Foster's best.

Grace Jenkins has had little experience with men—feeling too awkward and insecure to free the passionate woman inside her. But that hasn't stopped her from dreaming about Noah Harper. Gorgeous, strong and darkly sexy, his rough edge beneath the polish promises no mercy in the bedroom. When Grace learns Noah's engagement has ended in scandal, she shyly offers him her support and her friendship. But Noah's looking for something extra...

Noah wants Grace—badly. He wants to possess those curves that go on forever, to savor her sweet innocence, to take her to the limits of white-hot desire...again and again. What he doesn't want is anything more complicated than that, and he knows Grace is a woman who deserves better. Grace, however, knows exactly what she wants—the kind of ecstasy only Noah can give her. Brazenly, she accepts, and Noah promises to make all her secret fantasies come true...

Another awesome reread.

In the wonderfully erotic bestseller, Too Much Temptation, readers fell in love with two brothers -- dark, sexy Noah, and his roguish, younger brother, Ben -- as Noah followed his heart's desire. Now, acclaimed author Lori Foster returns to their world, this time exploring the sensual longings, secret wounds, andhidden needs of irresistible Ben Badwin, a man for whom there is never too much of a good thing...

He Wanted Her Completely

A confirmed bachelor, Ben Badwin has had his share of women, and he likes them as sexy, wild, and uninhibited as his desires. Nothing at all like the brash, dirt-covered, wholesomely cute woman who just strutted into his diner for a cold drink. But something about Sierra Murphy's independent attitude makes Ben fantasies run wild. He'd love nothing more than to dazzle her with his prized sensual make her want him as badly as he suddenly wants her...

Sierra has her own plans -- and they don't include getting involved with a notorious Romeo. Fiercely independent, with her own landscaping business to run, she makes it perfectly clear that she doesn't need a man to help her, not even one as sinfully tempting as Ben. But the more Sierra keeps her distance, the more Ben wants her. And the more Ben wants her, the harder it is for Sierra to steer clear of his teasing touches and enticing eyes. To get him into her bed -- and out of her system -- Sierra makes him a proposition: she'll sleep with him, but for one night only. Now, it's up to Ben to turn one night of pure ecstasy into a lifetime of passion...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Recent Reads

Here are a few recent reads... and really good ones too! Woot!

Jackson Rule by Dinah McCall
You can buy it here.

For powerful emotion and unforgettable romance Sharon Sala can't be beat. This beautifully repackaged classic is sure to delight her long-time fans and attract new ones!

Jackson Rule had spent nearly half his life behind bars for murder. Now he was starting over--or trying to. Once he laid hungry eyes on his new employer, though, his resolve to lead a simple solitary life deserted him, replaced by yearnings for fierce, forbidden passion.

Preacher's daughter Rebecca Hill was raised to give folks the benefit of the doubt--though maybe this time she'd taken charity a bit too far. True Jackson Rule had paid his debt to society, and was a hard, honest worker. What threatened to undo her was the sheer burning desire she felt in his presence, and the sinking feeling that her heart would be his captive forever.

This was a recommendation I saw on The Bradford Bunch by Ann Aguirre and holy smokes is this book GREAT! I love Jackson. He's so deep, tortured, and angsty... but he doesn't do anything by halves... no siree. Jackson does everything full-out and with everything he has... including love. Oh, he's oh so very dreamy. :o)

The Sheik and the Pregnant Bride by Susan Mallery
Silhouette Special Edition
March 2008

Maggie Collins had come to the exotic kingdom of El Deharia to restore Prince Qadir's antique car…not to get married. The no-frills mechanic had been burned by love before, and marriage—even to a seductive sheik—didn't top her agenda. But then Qadir made her an offer she should have refused.

It was meant to be a temporary engagement…until Maggie discovered she was pregnant. Now Qadir was honor-bound to give Maggie and her child the protection of his name. He never expected her to sweep him off his feet.

Would there be a royal wedding after all?

Dude, make fun all you want, but this book rocked. Sheiks baby! Lots of humor, wit, and awesome characterization. Woot! While her last two books (including one sheik book) were mediocre at best this one was fabulous! Ms. Mallery is back!

What Mattered Most by Linda Winfree
Available in Ebook here.
Available in print here.

A man in the worst place he can be—between two women—and forced to choose which one lives or dies.

Houston homicide detective, John O’Reilly, is torn between two women. One is the woman he’s loved without hope for years. The other carries his unborn child. Now, a man bent on revenge wants O’Reilly to choose, and any choice he makes could cost him everything.

Gutsy sheriff’s deputy, Lanie Falconetti, is determined not to repeat her mother’s mistakes in love. Her no-strings attached affair with John O’Reilly leads to an unexpected, but joyfully welcomed pregnancy. However, the shadow from John’s past threatens not only her chance at happiness, but her life and that of her unborn baby as well.

I read this on a recommendation from Lori and boy, oh boy am I glad I did. This book was awesome! A little suspense, a lot of relationship with tons of emotion, great characterization by an author who has immense talent is the prize you get when you read What Mattered Most.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Drive By Highlander Review

I say drive-by because I won’t go into depth on any one of these titles or series. The review bug has fled again and I’m not keeping pace with my reads. I can however, muster up an overview of these Highlander stories. And yup, with the exception of one, these are the same Highlanders Anne devoured awhile back. I’m her paperback swap buddy.

The Highlander’s Stolen Bride by Melanie George

Blurb: Lady Rosalyn Carmichael is on the run from her evil stepbrother, who will do anything to gain her inheritance. When Derek Hardwicke rescues her from an attempted kidnapping in London, she gratefully accepts the protection of his remote Scottish castle. And though Derek's devilishly handsome looks inspire scandalous fantasies, a secret from her past means those fantasies must forever remain dreams....

A Highland laird, Derek intends to marry his childhood friend Megan MacPherson, since only a Scottish wife will satisfy his clan. But beautiful Rosalyn awakens feelings he never dreamed he'd have. And while he has promised to keep her safe, the attraction between them burns too hot to deny. Now, with danger inching ever closer, he must choose between his allegiance to his clan and a passion like he's never known....

I saw this title bandied about two years ago, bought it and buried it under my TBR stack. Having read it now, I think it was the blurb/premise and the fact that it was a new release that put it top-of-mind. I’m guessing there was little blogger buzz about it. The writing felt amateur, the story predictable and the characters shallow. I’m pretty sure I finished it though, probably with a lot of skimming—I can’t really remember, it’s been over a month. Irony is that when I called up this blurb for purposes of this review, damned if the story didn’t sound good to me all over again. George simply failed to execute.

To Scotland With Love by Karen Hawkins (2nd in MacLean brothers series)

Blurb: When Lord Gregor MacLean learns his childhood friend, Venetia Oglivie, has been abducted by a fortune hunter, he rides off to Scotland in hot -- and very annoyed -- pursuit. Venetia's soft heart has gotten her in major trouble this time: if he doesn't rescue her swiftly, the scandal will ostracize the provocative wench!

The only sensible member of her family, Venetia is sure she can fix any problem, even this one. So when an irate Gregor catches up with her, arrogantly expecting a hero's welcome, the sparks between them begin to fly. Then an unexpected snowstorm traps them at an inn, and Gregor discovers his feelings for the lovely Venetia are far warmer than he realized -- fiery enough to burn down the inn! Now if he can only convince Venetia that his motive for marriage isn't duty...but desire.

This title was in the lovely box Anne sent. This was lighter fare than I generally prefer. It was well written, but Hawkins’ attempts at hilarity fell flat for me. Venetia’s meddling was genuinely naïve (as was her departure from London with a complete dunce) and it undermined any attempt Hawkins made to make her worthy (read ‘smart enough’) of the somewhat more mature Gregor. I liked the premise as well as the barely-there paranormal element, but the characters grated on my nerves. If you like light-hearted, you might enjoy this one—finding more in the players’ antics than I did.

The MacLeods of Skye trilogy: Highlander Untamed, Highlander Unmasked, Highlander Unchained by Monica McCarty

From McCarty’s release announcements:

Highlander Untamed is the story of Rory MacLeod, a fierce Highland chief who vows revenge on the hated MacDonald clan for the great wrong they’ve done his sister. When duty demands that Rory handfast with Isabel Macdonald, he has no intention of keeping his bride—but treachery is afoot and unexpected passion is in the air.

Highlander Unmasked is the story of Alex MacLeod, a battle-hardened outlaw fighting against injustice and the demons of the past. But his mission is put in jeopardy when he crosses paths with Meg Mackinnon, a determined woman intent on uncovering his secrets.

Highlander Unchained is the story of Flora MacLeod, Rory and Alex’s half-sister, a headstrong heiress who vows to be a prize for no man. But she doesn’t count on Lachlan MacLean, the rugged Highland chief who kidnaps her intent on winning her heart.

This trilogy was also in the lovely box Anne sent. It had exactly what I like in Scottish historical romance: Giant Highlander heroes determined to let no harm come to their women, no more brogue than the occasional “Aye” or “Lass”, and heroines with enough steel in their spines to withstand harsh Highland life. Yes, Garwood is my benchmark. Unfortunately, this set of stories also included way, way too much narrative—redundant narrative at that. Both hero and heroine, in all three stories, spend entirely too much time lamenting the fact that their love is forbidden. I grew tired of it and began skimming as many pages as I actually read. Without the unnecessary narrative, each would have been a tight, well-constructed story with sufficient characterization. Admittedly, I liked enough of the good stuff to read all three from McCarty. I may also read McCarty’s next Highlander trilogy, the Clan Campbell, when it releases in 2009.

MacCarrick Brothers Trilogy: If You Dare, If You Desire, If You Deceive by Kresley Cole

From Cole’s website:

Three Scottish brothers, cursed to walk with death, become what they were fated to be: dark warriors—a spy, a mercenary, and an assassin—without homes, families, or futures. Inhabiting a shadow realm on the periphery of society, these men are damned by their fates, their actions and, in some cases, by the very people they protect. They are fiercely possessive and will do whatever it takes to defend what’s theirs.

Another trilogy in the lovely box Anne sent. This set had my faved giant Highlanders matched with spitfire heroines. However, these heroes hurt their heroines (emotionally) nearly as much as they protected them and their brogue was thick enough to slow me down through some passages. I loved every one.

Cole’s characterization was fabulous. I was immediately drawn in and remained riveted to every word. Each of Cole’s heroes required a bit of redemption and they came by it through equal parts solemnity and humor. Great, great stories. Tightly written and character-driven. Loved them and now look forward to the Cole book I originally had on my TBR list—A Hunger Like No Other.
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