Sunday, December 27, 2009

YotC: From Friends to Forever by Karen Templeton

Well, this is the last YotC entry. Thanks to KMont for hosting this challenge during the year. I hope that some folks have realized that categories can be great reading.

Tony Vaccaro had been part of Lili Szabo's life since she was a lovesick teenager with a major-league crush. Now the high school athlete was a widowed single dad with a trio of energetic little girls relying on him—and no time for romance.

Little Lili had grown up! Fourteen years ago, she was like a cute kid sister. Now she had the potential to be so much more. But a shocking secret was about to split Tony's world apart. The question was, could he count on Lili to pick up the pieces?


I love Karen Templeton’s books. Her characters come off as real people, with real people problems. I loved the story in this one, but there were some things that bothered me. I always like to start positive, so…

I really liked Tony. Trying to survive after a spouse’s death is everyone’s biggest fear. And raising 3 young girls alone? Yikes! I liked that he was all about being devoted to his kids. He came across as a real parent. With a real preteen. Surly, uncommunicative, and add trying to come to terms with her mom’s death to it, and Claire is not a happy little girl to live with. I did like that she tried to be honest with herself when it truly counted. It showed a level of maturity that I think an oldest sibling would likely have in her circumstances.

Daph was adorable, as was Josie. I thought she had a rather large vocabulary for 18 months, but hey, it’s fiction. I could sympathize with Tony’s fear of losing his youngest daughter, while at the same time trying to come to grips with his late wife’s betrayal. All the emotions portrayed were realistic, believable, and very well written.

The story itself was great. I liked Lili a lot. She’d had a rather rough upbringing, but never seemed to resent it. She always looked on the bright side, but was no Pollyanna. She and Tony were good together. I liked that they didn’t jump into bed, regardless of the attraction that they both acknowledged.

There are two main things that I didn’t care for. One, there was an awful lot of internalizing. All the characters’ thoughts were spelled out. In great detail. A lot. I’d rather have some internalizing and more dialogue and interaction than the other way around.

Also, the accents. Drove me batshit crazy. I think that the “g” on Templeton’s keyboard must have been broken. Tony never said a word that ended in “ing” with the “g”. Goin’, thinkin’, doin’… well you get the picture. And Aunt Magda had a stereotypical Slavic accent. Spelled out in detail every time she opened her mouth. But Lili, also from Hungary, didn’t have her speech spelled out in the same way. It was noted that her accent got heavier at times, but the actual dialect was not written. I’d much prefer that, and although the accent did serve to make Magda larger than life because you could hear everything she said in that accent, still… it detracted from the reading experience.

Karen Templeton is a go-to author for me. There were just a couple things that bothered me enough to make this not my favorite. But Templeton fans will likely not mind enough to stop reading.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Stranger's Secrets by Beth Williamson

Betrayed By Her Own Heart

Sarah Spalding has learned to forge her own way and never to trust anyone—least of all a Yankee. But when her companion abandons her while on a train to Colorado, Sarah begrudgingly accepts the help of Whitman Kendrick—a Yankee, yes, but one with the most bewitching green eyes. Allowing Whit to be her traveling escort is one thing, taking him as a lover is another—even though she’s tempted beyond reason…

Whit Kendrick isn’t quite sure what to make of the sharp-tongued, sassy woman sharing his train compartment. All he knows is that Sarah is refreshingly different from most women—and his urgent, primal attraction for her is unlike any he’s experienced. Breaking down Sarah’s wall of defense won’t be easy. But Whit is determined to prove to Sarah that they’re more alike than different—and loving each other is all they need…

Warning, contains a small spoiler, but one that was revealed in The Redemption of Micah.

In the 3rd book in the series begun with The Education of Madeline, Williamson tells the story of Micah's sister, Sarah. Living in her old house which she had converted to a boarding house, Sarah leaves all her friends in order to attend Micah and Eppie's wedding. Along the way, her cabinmate on the train is none other than Whit Kendrick. From the moment she meets him, Sarah is determined to hate him. He's goodlooking, and he's a Yankee. Sarah suffered tremendously during the war at the hands of a Northern Army unit. It turns out, Whit realizes early on, that it was actually his unit that raped and pillaged that day.

Whit is on his way to meet and marry his fiancee. He certainly doesn't need the trouble that Sarah brings. However, they are inadvertently thrown together by circumstances, and their attraction simply cannot be denied.

One of the things I liked about this book is that Sarah is not altogether a sympathetic character. She comes off as nasty, prickly, and surly. Of course, this is all to hide a world of hurt, but it makes for an interesting dynamic. Usually, this is the role for the hero. Whit seems like a good guy, one who feels guilty for cheating on his fiance, but just can't seem to help himself.

I also liked that Sarah is not shy about going after what she wants. She makes all the first moves sexually. She recognizes what she wants and goes after it. Again, though, I got the impression that she used sex as a defense mechanism - kind of like she'd have sex on her terms, not someone else's.

The book is alternately heartbreaking and sexy. It's obvious that Whit also bears a lot of guilt over his apparent role in Sarah's rape and torture. That event has shaped Sarah's entire adult life, even though she puts a brave face to the world.

As so many of Williamson's books are, this is another raw look at the post-Civil War era, and coming to terms with the aftermath of the war. It's about forgiveness and self-awareness. Williamson, who normally excels at the tortured hero (you MUST read her Devils on Horseback series), has created a tortured heroine here, one who is brash, bold, and sassy, yet extremely vulnerable and fragile at the same time. She curses like a man, is overtly sexual (again, likely due to her experience as a young woman), and has a chip the size of Texas on her shoulder. Whit definitely comes off as the more sympathetic of the two... no, just the more ...well-adjusted, but he also has his own issues to deal with re: the war, and his family.

The only thing I had any sort of problems with was the way the confrontation with the sergeant of Whit's unit was handled. It wasn't really clear why he followed Sarah out to Colorado. He seemed to exist only to be the "bad guy." One would have thought he had his own demons to deal with, but he was apparently just rotten to the core. It did serve its purpose, however, in allowing Whit to come to terms with his role in Sarah's attack, and for Sarah to deal with it as well.

All in all, this is a wonderful entry to this series. Full of love, hate, sadness, joy, redemption, forgiveness, and all the other wonderful goodies that Williamson delivers. It's available ar The Book Depository as of the time of this posting for only $8.99 + free shipping! It's at Amazon for just over $10 (at the time of this post) and on the Kindle for just under $9. Price is the same at Official release date is January 4.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Rapture in Death by JD Robb

If Immortal in Death was Eve’s book, I’d say this one is Roarke’s book. In this book, Robb explores the idea of subliminal messaging. Roarke shows himself to be completely susceptible to the villain’s suggestions. The effect it has on him is tremendous, and this also highlights Eve’s devotion to him – something he needs tremendously and that makes her and their relationship stronger.

I thought I’d do something that I’ve done in the past: highlight some quotes that show how absolutely fabulous this book is, and places that leaped out at me as significant. So… here we go:

In this first one, Roarke shows how vulnerable he is with Eve, and how much her love means to him. Just wonderful emotions conveyed in this bit:

“You’re so important.” She trailed her finger down his chest. “So influential. And so… gorgeous.”

It was just a little too thick.He narrowed his eyes, caught the laughter in hers. “You’re putting me on.” Her laughter burst out. “You bought it. Oh, you should have seen your face.” She pressed a hand to her belly, yelping when he yanked on her ear. “I would have talked you into it.”

“I don’t think so.” Not at all sure of himself, he turned away, started to reach for his coffee again.

“I could have. You’d have done it if I played it right.” All but doubled over with laughter, she threw her arms around him, hugged herself to his back. “Oh, I love you.”

He went very still as emotion delivered a hard, bruising punch to his heart. Shaken, he turned, gripped her arms.

“What?” The laughter died out of her face. He looked stunned, and his eyes were dark and fierce. “What is it?”

“You never say it.” Swamped, he dragged her close and buried his face in her hair. “You never say it,” he repeated.

She could do nothing but hold on, rocked by emotions pulsing from him. Where had this come from? She wondered. Where had he hidden it? “Yes, I do. Sure I do.”

“Not like that.” He hadn’t known how much he needed to hear her say it, just like that. “Not without prompting. Without thinking about it first.”

She opened her mouth to deny it, then closed it again. It was true, and it was foolish, cowardly. “I’m sorry. It’s hard for me. I do love you,” she said quietly. Sometimes it scares me because you’re the first. And the only.”

Ne held her there until he was sure he could speak, then eased her back, looked into her eyes. “You’ve changed my life, become my life.” He touched his lips to hers, let the kiss deepen slowly, silkily. “I need you.”

She linked her arms around his neck, pressed close. “Show me. Now.”

So beautiful, the emotions portrayed there. How Roarke tells her how much she means to him, and how much he needs her, and Eve’s realization that she needs to give more to him, let herself go a bit.

(sorry - I got tired of typing, click on the next two quotes to enlarge)

So powerful. Eve needs to be the strong one here, absolve Roarke of his guilt. She’s unused to that position – being the compassionate, supportive one. Yet she steps right up, leaves her own discomfort behind to be what he needs.

As Roarke thinks back on who he was and who he wants to be, they have the following conversation. Eve, in her own way, is again the understanding one – the supportive one. Trying to get across to Roarke that she loves him as he is – that his past experiences make up the man she loves. And in her own pragmatic way, she is just what he needs.

This book really got me. Finally, Roarke show some weakness, and it devastates him. Not the weakness, per se, but in terms of how he perceives its effect on Eve. Once again, I’m pressed to say how much any woman would want that kind of love and devotion aimed at her.

You'll notice that I don't ever say much about the suspense aspects of these books. I felt like the most important thing about the suspense portion of Rapture In Death was how it served to forward Eve & Roarke's relationship. It propelled the growth that we see in both Eve and Roarke. Eve, who had to be the strong and supportive one, and Roarke, who had to learn to accept Eve's strength and support.

This was a fabulous entry in the series, one that put Eve and Roarke’s relationship onto a more equal ground. Up until now, we’ve seen him be totally supportive of Eve, but not as much the reverse. They truly understand one another, their pasts, and in this entry, Robb aims to show this aspect of their relationship. As I mentioned in my last review, if Eve doesn’t grow, her unintended neediness becomes a burden to both Roarke and the reader. But by making her the strong one, Robb lets the reader become more invested in the relationship, to see it more as a true partnership. Freakin’ fantastic.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Holiday woes?

So I went to the mall last night to do some last minute Hanukkah shopping. For the first time in my memory, the mall isn't open until 10 pm in the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's, and it was empty. I mean, we immediately got a parking place in the very front.

You'd think all the slow business would translate to lower prices, wouldn't you? But apparently not. I'm very thankful that we put away $200 a month each year for the holidays. Then we pull it out on Thanksgiving weekend to shop. Otherwise, we'd probably be in as big a predicament as lots of other folks.

How about you? Are your malls as empty as mine? And are you getting better deals this year?

Monday, December 07, 2009

ARC: Coming Undone by Lauren Dane


Brody Brown has always been responsible for others. After his parents’ death, he gave up a promising artistic career to care for his younger brother and sister. Now, with his siblings grown, Brody owns his own business, has a nice house, makes a nice living, and for the first time in years he’s on his own.

Elise Sorenson has come to Seattle with her young daughter to find peace. After years as a world-famous ballerina—(and just as many years in a marriage-gone-bad)—she’s looking for neither love nor attention. But she finds both in the handsome, honest man who befriends her with no strings attached.

More than friends, Brody and Elise discover in each other what they need—wild, physical passion without commitment. But it’ll take a shadow from Elise’s past to make them look beyond what they need—to what they truly desire.


I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC of this book from the most generous Lauren Dane. This is the sequel to Laid Bare and the story of Brody, Erin’s older brother.

This book may break your stereotyped vision of a tattooed, motorcycle-riding, tough-looking guy, if you have a picture of such a guy in your head. I admit, my mind automatically goes to a completely different type of personality than Brody when I see a guy like that. My first thought is to turn around and walkrun the other way. Which would be a huge mistake with a guy like Brody. He is warm, loving, caring, protective of his family, unafraid to show his love, and Hawt. So open your mind and do away with any preconceived notions, because this book will break any stereotypes in a big way.

Elise is another damaged Dane heroine who comes out the other end strong, refusing to let life’s experiences keep her down. An abused wife, she has taken control of hers and her daughter’s lives. Although she is wary of Brody at first, she quickly learns that looks are deceiving and that he’s a big, soft marshmallow. Especially when it comes to those that he cares about. Although Elise has a lot of issues to work through, she doesn’t allow them to interfere with her new relationship with Brody, and establishing new friendships with his family and extended family.

Once again, where Dane’s work shines is in the interactions between Brody and Elise, and among Brody’s family. I think I say this in every review I write of a Dane book, but truly, nobody writes family like she does. Every nuance, all the teasing, loving, annoyance, acceptance, happiness, joy, kindness, laughter, and support that a family gives – she manages to capture it. And I liked that the Brown family immediately accepted Elise into the fold. Dane also excels at the relationship between her hero and heroine, and this book is no exception. Right from their first meeting, you feel the connection between Brody and Elise. I liked how there was a good basis for a friendship there, even underneath all the sexual attraction. These two people got to know and like each other, an element so often missing in erotic romance.

I also liked that Elise’s daughter, Rennie, was never an afterthought. She’s a complete character, although quite precocious. There was always the issue of who was going to watch Rennie, she didn’t exist to be cute – she was an integral part of the story. Dane doesn’t shy away from the strain an uncomfortable relationship and rancorous divorce can have on the child involved. She shows Rennie as having difficulty every time that she has to have her monthly visitation with her grandparents. Thank you! So often parents become so wrapped up in their own angst that they forget that everything they do or say has an effect on their children. /editorial Dane shows this to the extreme, with her ex-in-laws being the exaggerated villains, but gets the point across.

When Brody and Elise do finally get together, their relationship grows over the course of several months. Thank you! This book doesn’t get its HEA after a week. No, this couple works to the bone for their HEA. They get to know each other and their families, and fall deeply in love in a comfortable, but H.O.T. relationship. Brody’s issues stem from having to take care of his siblings at a very young age – he doesn’t think he wants to tie himself down, never really seeing what everyone else does – he is already tied body and soul to Elise.

Elise, likewise, having come out of an abusive marriage, doesn’t want to be tied to one man. But she also has fallen like a ton of bricks for Brody. He treats her like a queen, loves her daughter, and is great in bed. His fatal flaw is that he doesn’t want her to worry about anything, so he tends to try to make decisions for her. Having been in an abusive relationship and now on her own, Elise chafes at this treatment.

It’s a pleasure to read a book about two emotionally mature people falling into love naturally, with their eyes wide open. Who, for the most part, talk through their problems. Brody is a natural caregiver, and Elise, while she had issues, was open and honest. This book is incredibly heart-warming, and at the same time it revs your engines like nothing else. There certainly is no lack of hot hot sex. Yet at the same time, none of it is gratuitous. Every sex scene between Elise and Brody has an emotional connection and forwards their relationship. There’s also a bonus scene with Erin and her two husbands from Laid Bare. Wowza.

I closed this book feeling really, really good. Confident in the HEA for this couple. Confident that they were grounded and mature, ready and able to handle what life throws at them. Isn’t that what we all want from a romance? To truly believe in the HEA? You won’t be disappointed in this book if that’s your goal, too.

I highly recommend it. This is from Berkley Heat, release date of Jan 5, 2010. Buy Coming Undone here, here, or here. As of the writing of this post, both Amazon and BN have it for 33% off, and Book Depository has it for 25% off, with free shipping.

Glory in Death and Immortal in Death

Since the In Death Challenge is commencing shortly, I’m going to note that this review contains spoilers for Eve & Roarke’s relationship. Although I imagine almost everyone has read it, there may be some who have not.

Glory In Death

Book 2 in the In Death series, this book advances Eve & Roarke’s relationship. We see more into Eve’s childhood, as her nightmares continue to haunt her. We also learn a little more about Roarke’s childhood as well.

What was great: The subtleties with which Robb writes Roarke’s emotions. On the surface, he’s loving to Eve, nurturing, definitely the more demonstrative of the two. However, Robb’s narrative reveals little nuances that show the depth of his emotions, how scared he is in this relationship that he might lose Eve at some point. Case in point: Roarke presents Eve with a big-ass diamond necklace. Because she can’t handle the overt commitment that it implies, she argues with him about it. Roarke then issues an ultimatum to her about their relationship. Eve still isn’t ready to face her past, or to open herself up that much, so she leaves. Roarke's reactions are so subtle, yet perfect.

What else? The scene where Eve finally says “I love you” to Roarke. Wow. The way that she broke down was so realistic. And his reactions to her were done perfectly. His insistence, his hands shaking, his immense relief.

This book showed tremendous growth in Eve. Although she is still a loner, we see a little more of her relationship with others: Roarke, Mavis, Feeney, even Whitney. Love that she wears the diamond, even though she keeps it inside her shirt, she has to acknowledge her feelings for Roarke by wearing it.

As for the suspense in this one, the whodunnit was fairly obvious to me early on, although I did wonder about a few others. I think that setting the newness and fragility of the relationship between Eve and Roarke (and even Eve and others) against the grimness and crudity of the murders is the point, much more than keeping the reader guessing the villain.

Immortal in Death
I consider this one to be Eve’s growing up book. I felt it even more after I read on Robb’s website that this was only intended to be a 3-book series. That explained a lot of the growth I saw in Eve. She reaches out and deepens her relationships with her friends – in fact realizes that she has friends. When Mavis looks to be the prime suspect in a murder, Eve digs deep in order to clear her name. Her friendship with Mavis deepens in this book, and she opens herself to new relationships with people, such as Dr. Mira and Nadine. Even Peabody. Both Dr. Mira and Nadine move from being acquaintances that Eve strives to keep at a distance to friends, and though Eve still tries to be a loner, she has more difficulty doing so. Much of this comes because she is beginning to come to terms with her childhood – she remembers all of it in this book. We also learn more of Roarke’s childhood, and bits of what has made him the man that he is.

As Eve remembers her childhood (which is not for the faint of heart, I might add), it’s like the lock on her emotions begins to come undone. While she can’t change her basic personality, we see more humor from her, more emotional ties, and more caring.

One scene I really liked was when Eve and Mavis visit Leonardo for the first time, and he’s designing the wedding dress, and Eve admits to herself that she really wants it. Wants to wear that dress more than anything. It’s just so out of character, and such an innately female reaction that it reconnects the reader with Eve and her femininity. It makes her seem more human, with vulnerabilities and hopes, dreams, and desires, even as she strives to deny that part of herself.

Roarke, as always, completely understands her. Gets her. Knows what she needs. Knows when to back off and when to push. I get such a kick out of him calling her “Lieutenant.” My heart broke when learning his back story with Summerset’s daughter. The guilt Roarke carries with him. I liked the honest reaction he displayed by being afraid to make love with Eve after her complete revelation about her past.

The suspense in this one, while once again not totally compelling in comparison to Eve and her character study, was well done, although once again, I guessed the whodunnit.

A few things I find interesting in these books are the juxtaposition in the relationship – Roarke is the nurturing one, the one unafraid to say “I love you,” the one unwilling to let Eve give up on herself or the relationship. He’s the talker.

Robb recognizes that to make Eve a static character would turn readers against her. Eve grows, learns, changes, and acknowledges. All without changing her basic personality.

Something else I find fascinating is that while much of the procedural discussions revolve around doing things by the book, Eve finds it easier and easier to use Roarke and his information in ways that can’t possibly be admissible in court. This lends a hint of moral ambiguity to me that makes the books more interesting.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Naked in Death by JD Robb, or why I blame Christine

I blame Christine for this, completely. I have successfully avoided the In Death series for close to 15 years now, but she had to go start a challenge. Now I know why I’ve avoided it. Because I knew I’d be hooked. I just knew it. I couldn't even wait for the official start of the challenge. Damn you, woman!

If there’s anyone who doesn’t know this series, well, crawl out from under your rock. You’ll just need to google the synopsis. So there. I’m just going to start right in.

I really loved how Robb not only wrote this as a suspense, and as a romance, but also as a social commentary. That was what grabbed me almost immediately. The commentary on everything from gun control to birth control to genetic engineering to legalized prostitution and drugs. From extreme conservatism to pharmaceuticals and their evolution and cost due to the control of disease. Yet the common cold and the cockroach are still unresolved problems, never to be wiped out. Flat out loved it.

Moving on… Eve. She’s tough, yet vulnerable. Strong, but still needs someone to lean on. Smart as a whip. In your face. Roarke. Enigmatic. Mysterious, yet at the same time, totally open to Eve. He’s the one who shows his vulnerability first. Shows his interest in the relationship. Wants her uncontrollably. Yummy.

The story and suspense portion were very well done. Although I guessed the whodunit fairly early on, I still was pulled into the story by the uniqueness of the setting, the grimness of the characters and the crimes, and the potential of the romance. The sameness of our world set against the possibility of our future and what it might hold.

Now I can’t wait to read the next one, and I blame it all on Christine.

YotC: One Good Man by Alison Kent

Ten years ago Jamie Danby was the only survivor of a senseless killing spree. Because the killer was never found, Jamie has lived her life in hiding, waiting for the worst. Now she's in danger again and she's not sure she can handle it. Until one sexy, rugged, gorgeous man strides into her life, determined to protect her at any cost!

Kell Harding is a Texas Ranger—and how! They don't make 'em tougher. Jamie soon finds out that they don't make 'em hotter either!

But Kell plans only to keep Jamie safe—not keep her forever. As soon as his assignment is done, so is he.

At least, that's what he thinks…


It’s very difficult to write really complete stories in category length, especially Blaze, IMO, where so much of the emphasis is on the sex. Alison Kent is an author who excels in this format, never shortchanging the story or the characters for the sake of the sex.

In this book, Jamie was the sole survivor of a mass murder in a diner, and 10 years later, the cold case has been reopened and Kell is the Ranger assigned. He’s determined to not only solve the case, but also to help Jamie in any way he possibly can. Here is one instance where the title of the book is actually truly fitting.

Here’s a book where almost all the issues belong to the heroine. Rightfully so. She’s beautifully flawed. She drinks. She is distrustful. She is skittish. She is unwilling to think about tomorrow. Kent establishes this slowly, but by the time that Jamie and Kell have sex, we understand it and want Kell to break through and heal her. Even though Kell is sure he will walk away when the case is solved, he finds he is unable to, and we’ve seen him day by day become tied more closely to Jamie.

I can’t recall a single Alison Kent book that I’ve not enjoyed. She’s able to write a complete book in category length; one that doesn’t feel rushed or forced in any way, yet when it’s finished, you can feel that the H/H are in love. She’s one of my favorite contemporary authors, whether it’s single title or category. The Sweetest Taboo is one of my all-time favorite Blazes, and I just finished With Extreme Pleasure, and really liked that one as well. King is a great hero. Loved him.

But I digress... Point was, that I really liked One Good Man. If you're looking for a good Blaze to warm up with on a cold night, this is a good one :)

Friday, November 20, 2009

In keeping with the PSAs...

Go on over to Riding With the Top Down for a great discussion on the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force's recent stupidass recommendations on reducing the frequency of mammograms for women and their equally idiotic recommendation that women stop doing BSE. (Where is the recommendation that men stop doing TSE, by the way? Hmmmmmm?)

In addition to being a great topic, Kathleen Eagle is giving away her latest book to a commenter.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Don't Smoke, Just Read

Today is the Great American Smokeout. There are so many reasons not to smoke; you're all aware of them, and I won't bore you by repeating them.

You'd have to be living under a rock not to know that cancer is my pet cause. Every year I hound you politely request that you support my Relay for Life walk. What you may not know is that I also give money throughout the year to City of Hope, and that my grandparents left the bulk of their estate to the City of Hope. It's a family tradition, doing our part to fight cancer.

Some self-indulgent storytime... my hubby was a double chain-smoker when we met in college. He was like the double helix of smokers. Cigarettes and... well, you get it. Thankfully, he quit cigarettes at the age of 22. Cold turkey. The other? Let's just say it took a little longer :)

Both my parents also chain-smoked. It was a lot more common back in the day. I remember my mom sending us to the store to buy her cigarettes. My dad quit cold turkey when I was 2. He was home alone with me during a bitter snowstorm in Boston when he ran out of cigarettes. After smoking every butt in the house, he just figured he wasn't meant to be a smoker anymore. But to the day he died, he had smoking dreams so realistic he'd wake up and ask my mom if he'd smoked the night before.

So today, I'm urging you. If you are a smoker, and you know who you are *coughjennniferbcough*, please make every attempt to give it up. The life you save may be your own.

For materials on how to quit and where to get support, please go here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Amazon Best of for 2009

Ok, wow. So the Amazon 10 Best Books in... categories are out. Editor and Customer Favorites. I was surprised to see that in the top 10 customer favorites for romance, there are 3 Nora Roberts books and 7 paranormals. The 3 NRs weren't the surprise, but really? 7 paranormals? Was nothing else released/purchased besides Nora and paranormals? I found that trend interesting. Customer Favorites were defined as bestselling books through October 2009.

The list for customer favorites is:
  1. Vision in White
  2. Bed of Roses
  3. Lover Avenged
  4. Skin Trade
  5. Black Hills
  6. Hidden Currents
  7. Dream Fever
  8. Bad Moon Rising
  9. Dark Slayer
  10. Covet

Editor's top picks are:
  1. Angels' Blood
  2. Smooth Talking Stranger
  3. Kiss of a Demon King
  4. The Perfect Poison
  5. Bending the Rules
  6. What Happens in London
  7. Fireside
  8. A Duke of Her Own
  9. Immortal Outlaw
  10. Angel Lane

Interestingly, not a NR in the bunch. What say you? Which list do you agree with more?

Last note: I'm not surprised that in their Editor's Top 100 picks across all books, there's not a single "romance" in the group, although the new Audrey Niffenegger is on it.
#8 on the Customer Top 100 is Dead and Gone. Finger Lickin' Fifteen is #22. Vision in White #52. Bed of Roses #85.  Plus a lot of what I would consider chick lit as well as suspense/thriller.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Kris' m/m Meme

I wasn't tagged, but this looked like a lot of fun. Kris came up with this meme, and decided that everyone should do it. m/m romance is a genre that I don't read a lot of, but when you get a good book? Yummy. When it goes wrong? Ouch in a major way. So if you like m/m, consider yourself tagged and do this. It was great fun!


1. Answer all the questions below in either the comments here or post it on your own site. If you post it on your own site you have to come back and give the link here so Kris can mosey on over and see if you answered correctly have a sticky beak.

2. You have to tag two other people once your done and pester them relentlessly until they do the meme too.

3. Instead of a meme image thing you have to post a cookie, preferably a twofer. It is an m/m meme after all. ;)

*Kris rubs hands together in glee*


1. How long have you been reading GLBTQ fiction?
April 2006

2. What was the first book you read in this genre?
A Bit of Rough by Laura Baumbach

3. Are you 'out' as a reader?
Ummm… out to my online friends? Probably. And if I wasn’t before, I am now! To anyone else? I don’t think so.

4. Ebooks, print or both?
Ebooks only. That actually goes for any kind of erotic romance, not just GLBTQ. Inquiring teenage minds want to know at my house, and I’m not inclined to let them. Plus, they're disgusted enough to think that their mom might actually be interested in sex. This might throw them over the ledge.

5. Do you buy direct from publishers or from secondary sellers?

6. Prove you're a Book Slut. How many books would you say you buy a week?
Oh dear. It probably averages out to about 5-7, because I probably buy about 20-30 a month. But if you’re just talking M/M, then I go in spurts, no pun intended *g*. I probably buy about 1-2 a month.

7. Are you a cover, blurb or excerpt buyer?
All 3. I could buy just on a cover, but if the cover sucks big ol’ hairy donkey dicks, I might not buy it even if the blurb sounded appealing. I’d never even make it to the excerpt. I'm shallow that way.

8. Yeah, you read reviews, but do you actually take notice of them?
I do, yup. Especially for M/M, where I don’t read a ton of books.

9. Who's your fave publisher?
Hmmm… I plead the 5th.

10. What about authors? Your top two only!!
Oh gosh! That was a hard one *snort* (yeah, I’m really that juvenile). When I look at my list of books, it looks like the 2 authors I have the most books by are Josh Lanyon and KA Mitchell.

11. Is there a sub-genre you particularly dis/like?
I’m pretty vanilla, I think. No body fluids, please.

12. Short or long?? *rolls eyes* And, no, I'm not talking about cocks.
Long. It really is all about size.

13. Anything turn you off about m/m or is all just glorious smut to you?
I really dislike gratuitous sex and cheaters. And 3somes just for the sake of 3somes. Even if I’m reading m/m, I’m still a romance reader.

14. Finish this sentence. You know it's m/m twu wuv when...
he’s ready to out himself for you after one bout of glorious manlove.

15. What trope or theme are you heartily sick of in m/m romance?
We had our first sexual experience together as teenagers, our parents tore us apart, and now we’ve found each other as incredibly hunky 30 year olds. One of us is out and one of us is closeted. I love you, let’s get it on! (Note: I'm sick of it, but it works for me LOL)

16. If you could choose any 3 characters for a m/m/m who would they be?
I have absolutely no clue.

17. What new GLBTQ release are you most hanging out for right now?
The Dark Tide, like everyone else… Please put Kris out of her misery and let Jake be a happy go lucky guy (see # 20 below)

18. What GLBTQ book has completely blown you away this year?
Mexican Heat

19. What do you think we'll see more of in m/m romance in 2010?
BDSM seems to be a continuing trend generally in romance, but I’m not sure I read enough to really know. New trend seems to be steampunk. Ugh. Nuff said.

20. Don't you agree that author Josh Lanyon should kill off arsehole character Jake Riordan? Bwahahahaha!!!
Like I said. Jake is just finding himself. Course, Adrien might be dead by then, but still… at least he didn’t wake up one day, and realize “Oh, I’m gay, and the world is all sunshine and roses! Let’s get it on, Adrien!”. He’s figuring it out. Nobody ever said that those big strong tough guys were the sharpest knives in the drawer. It’s just taking him a little longer than everyone else.

And apologies. I'm on a diet, so no cookies.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

No Surrender by Shannon Stacey

And now for something completely different... a review!

No Surrender by Shannon StaceyBook 3 in the Devlin Group series, this one features Carmen Olivera and John Gallagher. It opens up right in the middle of the action, with the two stuck in a goatfuck of an op trying to find their way out of what was to be a routine job. Stranded, reliant on each other to get out alive, they give in to the attraction they’ve been fighting for years.

Once again, Stacey keeps the reader on the edge of their seat, on a roller coaster of an adventure. I loved Gallagher, in particular. I loved how open he was with Carmen, how willing he was to put it all on the line. Except that he had the problem all those alpha males have – not wanting his woman to be in danger. When your woman is a covert operative, that’s a problem. Carmen, in addition to having a whole ton of commitment issues, isn’t willing to sit back and let him muscle her out of any work where she’s the logical choice based on her skill set.

Stacey has a gift for writing kickass heroines with issues, and alpha heroes who are just so mushy inside you want to melt. This book delivers two of those heroes, although we’ll have to wait for Jack Donovan’s story (and boy, does it promise to be a good one – I was reminded almost immediately of Gerard’s Dallas & Amy). Gallagher is all that is awesome, with that flaw of wanting to protect Carmen too much. Carmen is prickly, but when she lets her guard down with Gallagher, wowza, the sparks fly, and she is vulnerable and all woman.

I also liked that there was a hint of moral ambiguity in this book – when Gallagher and Donovan go back to finish the job they started. It wasn’t necessary; they already had the Isabelle out. But they went in and assassinated Le Roux anyway. It shows what it must be like living that kind of life on the edge. And Stacey didn’t shy away from it.

Some of the best scenes in the book are those with Jack, and his struggle to maintain his cover and professionalism with Isabelle, the hostage that the team goes in to rescue. Stacey shows his dark side and how his past and his job haunt him. And though he could have easily taken over this book, he didn’t, because Gallagher is truly such a wonderful hero that you can’t help but wait for every page that he appears on and root for him to win Carmen over.

Another area where Stacey shines is in writing humor. Both Carmen and Gallagher are incredibly funny, and have some hilarious exchanges. The humor serves to lighten the tension, but also to bring warmth to these characters - Carmen especially - when they could have otherwise been viewed as simply driven and hard-headed.

A terrific entry in the DG series – with humor, action, romance, angst, and a great setup for a future book without sequel-baiting. Will Jack’s book be the next one? Can’t wait to find out. This book definitely stands on its own, too. You do not have to read the first two in the series, although I highly recommend it!

The Devlin Group Series:
72 Hours: Alex & Grace’s book
On the Edge: Tony & Charlotte’s book
No Surrender: Gallagher (John) & Carmen’s book

Thursday, November 12, 2009

When the parent becomes the child

More of the personal stuff...

I've been absent from blogland for a good part of the last few weeks. We're going through some serious issues with my mom. First off, She's 71. Not terribly old, but you know the saying that you're only as young as you feel or act? Yeah. She acts the 71 of my grandmother's time, not the 71 of today. For the last several years, she hasn't taken good physical care of herself. As a result, she has a lot of health issues, I'm shocked by her sudden lack of good hygiene, and her mental health has taken some hits as well. She's suffered some memory issues over the last 5-6 years that has me and my siblings very concerned. She refuses to see or acknowledge these issues, however. Add to that, she's a typical Jewish mother. There's an old joke: "How many Jewish mothers does it take to screw in a light bulb? None. I'll just sit here in the dark, dear. Don't worry about me." That describes my mom to a T. She's the perfect martyr.

So about 6 weeks ago, my mom called my siblings and me to let us know that she decided to buy a condo. Since she and my dad sold their home in Arizona and moved back to California in 2003, they (and now she) have been living in an apartment about a mile from both my sister and myself. My brother lives about 15 minutes away. The problem? She didn't let any of us know about this proposed purchase beforehand. She decided to do it, and kept it secret because she knew none of us would approve. She arranged to pull approx $300,000 out of her retirement funds to buy it. Even though she's constantly complaining she can barely make ends meet. She put several offers in at once on short-sales, out of sheer desperation to be a homeowner once again. The reason she finally let us know? It looked like one was going to actually accept her offer and close.

We came to find out that she had kept this secret from her children, but had told my in-laws and my sister's MIL. And sworn them to secrecy. And that her loan officer was my sister's BIL, also sworn to secrecy. Unbelievable.

AND, she won't be saving any money at all on a monthly basis, which was her rationale to us in the first place. Besides the "I miss owning my own home" argument. And the "My apartment is too small" argument. (The condo that she closed on is actually smaller than her apartment, but she saw it without furniture, so she thinks it's larger - square footage means nothing to her.)

My mom doesn't handle stress well. When something goes wrong at her apt right now, she calls maintenance. If they aren't there to fix it ASAP, she gets pretty pissy with them. I can only imagine how it will be as a homeowner. I don't have the time to maintain two homes. Nor does my husband. As it is, we spend an inordinate amount of time over there fixing little things for her. I don't have a problem with that, but now I anticipate it will be expanded to plumbing and other maintenance issues. My brother and BIL are pretty useless when it comes to maintenance (and I say that with love, truly), so their help is out.

Really, truly, the issue is that she needs to keep making changes every couple years because she still hasn't come to terms with my dad's death 5 years ago. She's still making comments like "This isn't how it was supposed to be," or "I can't believe your dad left me to deal with this on my own." And I truly understand her feelings. Even moreso after the last couple weeks. I know that my folks were supposed to grow old together. Nobody anticipated my dad passing away at 70. But buying a home isn't something that she can just change her mind on 2 years from now when she decides she doesn't like it. She's moved apartments twice in the 5 years since my dad passed, trying to find a place that works for her. And each time, she buys a ton of new stuff. That a month earlier she says she can't afford. At some point, I really hope that she will realize that she needs to move on. Spend time with friends. DO something every day. Find joy in life. Because, I imagine that she has a lot of years ahead of her, and I really don't want her to be unhappy all those years.

So, we've been struggling with the big question that's been sitting on the back burner for the past few years. How to handle it when the parent is becoming the child, but isn't ready to acknowledge any diminished capacity? She thinks we're all just treating her like a baby.

Honestly, this is so stressful - I want to treat my mom with the respect that she needs and deserves, but I don't know how far to take my disapproval and concerns. My siblings and I have pretty much sucked it up at this point and are letting her make her own decisions, including this one. But we're asking ourselves more and more often, given her lack of physical care for herself (which isn't yet to the point where we feel she can't live alone) and her lack of stable emotional decision-making, how do we manage a woman whom my dad let have everything in life she wanted? Who almost never heard the word no? And who hasn't a clue, or refuses to see, that she isn't in the best position to be purchasing a home at 71 and in poor physical, financial, and emotional health?

Been a little stressed out lately. Hopefully will get back to bloghopping and writing reviews soon. Thanks for letting me vent.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

SAHM Envy....realized.

Over the past year, I'm pretty sure I limited my public working Mom angst to Yahoo group and Facebook friends. Didn't get into it so much here or at Let's Gab. The long and long of it...(seriously it's long and rambling and entirely self-serving)...almost 7 years ago, I was a career-minded, working Mom when I gave birth to my son. And despite an immediate and very sharp desire to give it all up to stay home with him, I went back to work. Financially, it made more sense for me to work and my husband to stay home. A couple of paycuts later, he returned to work and G went off to daycare. And we all adjusted.

Three years later, I was laid off with no viable employment in sight. And finally, home with G. We all adjusted. And despite the economic hardships, I'll admit, it was heaven to be with him. I'll also say that I knew it. At the time, I knew it was heaven. I didn't waste it.

Two and a half years later, G started kindergarten and I found a job. Started part-time, while he was in school, and experienced no great bump in our little piece of heaven. By Christmas, another job found me and, in January, I returned to the 8 to 5 grind. Big bump. G went from school to his old daycare to friend Barb's. Long day for him, but we all adjusted.

Then summer came and we all adjusted again. G to day camp, various playdates and a bit of daycare each week. I worked very hard to keep it varied for him. I worked equally hard to fend off the guilt when, driving by the lake on our way home each day, G asked when we could go to "our beach." We both missed our summer days together. At the beach, on the bike trails, in the yard. The guilt ate at me. The resentment did too. I wanted our time together as much as he did.

The start of first grade brought more adjustments--these more rocky than any before. He went from school to latchkey--spending his entire, long day with strangers. New teacher, none of his buddies in his class, more of the same at latchkey, and so on. It was a very rough start for him and my guilt and concern skyrocketed. After three weeks, I met with principal and teacher and saw positive changes in his school day. Then I swapped one of his latchkey days with a weekly playdate, and you get the drift. Things turned around for him and I breathed easier, worried less.

Sounds like I was doing everything I could possibly do to successfully parent him, be his advocate and keep him priority one. Right? Wrong. The 8 to 5 grind robbed me of energy--some days just a little, other days pretty much all of it. My homelife went from exactly that, life at home, to not a lot more than chores. Leave work, get G, get home and cook dinner, clean up, review schoolwork, practice spelling words, bath, storytime, bed. The 5 to 7:20 AM time slot wasn't much different and frequently involved me rushing G out the door to school and work. In my heart, I know--being ruthlessly honest with myself--that I treated most evenings and pretty much every morning as a To Do list. Worse yet, I methodically moved through that To Do list with the one selfish goal of being able to sit down, alone, at the end of the night. For some me-time. Me-time that I needed, now that I found none elsewhere in my day.

The ache of it was awful. And friends like Lori will tell you I struggled with it.

And note the past tense. Couple weeks back I lost my job. Total stunner. Thankfully--for all the relatable financial reasons--I found another job a day or two after that. I start next Monday. So right now, I'm in the in-between. With two and a half weeks of SAHM-ness. Two and half weeks of daily, right-before-my-eyes proof that working full-time short-changes my family. My rational self knows that the short-changing would be far worse if we were to be struggling to keep our house, fill the pantry, send G to college and some day retire. The Mom in me knows--firsthand--that we would all be better served if I were home more waking hours than I was at work. In this, there is no in-between.

I've seen it in just these few days. First, G got sick and was home two days from school. Had I been working, there would have been discussion about who would take off work to stay with him. And what that would mean--using vacation days, missing meetings, etc. With the time already off, there was no discussion that might alert him to Mom and Dad's burdens. Just quiet assurances that Momma would be here with him and all he had to do was rest and get better.

Back to school, he finds me there to pick him up when the bell rings. Every day. On the crappy weather days, we come home to board games and Spongebob. On the nice days, we stop off at the community center for some tennis. Regardless of what we do or where we go, he is "home" minutes after the school bell rings. And he is a different kid. Swear. I can SEE how relaxed he is. Particularly when we get to the chore part of our days. Some things--like leaves--we tackle together. Other things I get done while he is content to play whatever. Amazing how we slid easily back into our routine of old. It has been as good as I remembered it.

And it will end in a few days.

There is a lot on this out there--whole and sound arguments for making whatever sacrifice necessary to stay home with your kids. There is also a great deal on the needs of women--beyond those of simply motherhood. Tons and tons on balance and expectations; and convenience and short-cuts. All of it worthwhile. But little of it that changes this individual's reality.

Bottomline, I will go back to the 8 to 5 next Monday. G and I will part ways in front of his school before 8 AM and meet up again just as darkness falls here in Northern Michigan.

Some things will be easier than before. For one, latchkey has introduced a new teacher/leader for G's group--a woman from our church that 'knows' G (this knowing is important to him this year). So that should be better. And friend Barb has decided it best for G if she can get him from latchkey earlier than I'm able to. Another stop in his long day but one that is as close to his own home as it gets. Another thing, my new job promises to come without the bizarro factor underlying my last one. That alone should alleviate a good deal of the energy-drain.

And hopefully...hopefully it will be easier simply because we had this brief respite. Not only a gift of what I'd been missing so much, but a reminder not to let my own burdens ruin what time we do get together.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Congrats to Angela James and Carina Press

Harlequin has launched a new digital-only line, and Angela James will be the Executive Editor. Congrats, Angie!! What a coup! I can't wait to see what they have in store for us. For more info, visit Carina Press.

(side note: interesting that I saw absolutely nothing about this on the Harlequin site... anywhere)

Branded By Fire by Nalini Singh

Title: Branded By Fire
Author: Nalini Singh

Type: Paranormal
Series: Psy-Changeling
Published: 2009

Blurb: Though DarkRiver sentinel Mercy is feeling the pressure to mate, she savagely resists when Riley Kincaid, a lieutenant from the SnowDancer pack, tries to possess her. The problem is not simply that he pushes her buttons; the problem is that he’s a wolf, she’s a cat, and they’re both used to being on top.

But when a brilliant changeling researcher is kidnapped from DarkRiver territory, Mercy and Riley must work together to track the young man—before his shadowy captors decide he’s no longer useful. Along the way, the two dominants may find that submitting to one another uncovers not just a deadly conspiracy, but a passion so raw that it’ll leave them both branded by fire…

Why: Singh is an auto-read.

Thoughts: Singh's Psy-Changeling series is a sure thing for me. No matter my reading mood, I know I'll fall in love and sigh in contentment every time I enter this world. Unfortunately, in Branded By Fire, that love and contentment was disturbed--slightly--by annoyance. Eight books into the series now, Singh is compelled to clue new-to-the-series readers in now and again. The background, while necessary and not overdone at all, annoyed me a bit only because I already know all that stuff. Conversely, as the conflict deepens and the number of factions grows, Singh's world is reaching a point of complexity I'm not sure I want. It's a lot to follow, a lot to remember.

What absolutely worked: True to form, Singh keeps the focus primarily on the H/H. In this, I was hooked. Almost right from the first page, something else Singh manages every time out. Riley and Mercy are familiar characters, but watching them turn their aggression on each other was startling (in a very good way). These were two very powerful characters and Singh balanced their need for dominance beautifully--right along a knife's edge. There was nothing lacking in their story. Nothing at all. And maybe, even more breath-hitching moments than usual. All fabulous.

What didn't: The backdrop however, fell slightly flat for me. Like I said, it was hard to keep up with the who, what, when and where intrinsic to the external conflict(s). And there were inconsistencies or loose ends (to my mind) uncharacteristic of Singh's previous Psy-Changeling installments. One example was the kidnap victim's refusal to clue Pack leaders into his work--the reason behind the kidnapping. It didn't fit for me. Seemed to me that Pack leaders would have followed that thread more closely and more quickly to the bad-guy source. In another example, the Pack(s) allowed a rebel group, split off from the core of the enemy (on their word), to go on back to hiding while they sorted it all out. That too felt atypical. There was also the murder of a key underground figure that went virtually untouched.

These all felt like loose or unanswered ends to me. Events that Singh will surely bring back and tie up in future installments. But I swear in all of her previous books, the events and outcomes were more tightly woven. Maybe even to the degree that a new reader could enjoy any one of those books as a standalone. Branded By Fire, by comparison, lacked that symmetry.

Still a sure thing for me, as romance trumps world-building on my preference scale. However, I will go into Blaze Of Memory a bit more hesistantly--wondering if I need a primer to sort out all of the threats to Silence, potential repercussions if it breaks, and to figure out who is behind the mad-scientist stuff.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Show And Tell by Jasmine Haynes

Title: Show And Tell
Author: Jasmine Haynes

Type: Erotic Romance
Published: 2008

Why: Blogger rec.

Blurb (misleading, BTW): Trinity Green always dreamed of uninhibited passion, but pleasing her husband meant never having a hair out of place—or so she thought. The day she found him getting down and dirty with another woman, she decided to stop pleasing other people—and start pleasing herself…

Now she’s indulging in everything she used to deny herself—from great food to a few sexy encounters with a man who doesn’t even know her name. Having total control gives her a thrill she never imagined. But with true passion comes real connection, and soon Trinity must admit—and accept—who she really is…

Thoughts: Really, really mixed. On the one hand, Trinity's sexual connection to Scott resonated big with me. Can't explain it, but I felt, understood and accepted, needed the connection. Unusual for me--because while I enjoy erotic romance, I find very few that unerringly convince me of the sexual compulsion(s). I'm a person who needs more than that initial physical zing of attraction to act. So it's rare that I fall into an H/H that START with sex. Doesn't mean I don't enjoy the sex, LOL. It just means I'm rarely, if ever, emotionally vested in the characters. Here, I was that and more.

On the other hand, I found characterization lacking. I know, totally mixed up. I was emotionally vested, but frustrated beyond words at how little depth Haynes gave these characters, Trinity specifically. I spent far too much time trying to determine why I felt this way. Was it that I simply couldn't relate to this heiress who still calls her father "Daddy?" Or was it that Haynes actually wasted such a fabulous premise on a paper thin character? Or....did poor storytelling ruin it?

Haynes tells readers that Trinity suffers an heiress/debutante-imposed need to be perfect. All the time. Even in bed. She never lets go, even during sex, if it means her mascara will run or her hair tangled. I didn't buy it. Thought her shallow for it. Haynes also tells us (primarily through internal thought--another problem for me) that Trinity's ill-fated marriage was a Vegas quickie a month after she met him. Here, I thought her stupid as well as shallow. That she worries how her Daddy will react to her divorce announcement only adds to it all. Bottom line, Trinity's issues are of the self-esteem variety and Haynes absolutely failed to garner my sympathy.

Deanna Raybourn borrowed a phrase and shared it on her blog awhile back. The phrase was "those are princess problems." In Raybourn's example, she compared her own problem--that of a husband working too many hours--to another woman's problem--a husband deployed a year or more to Iraq. It was about perspective and so damn true.

Trinity's problems? Princess. Even though they didn't have to be. She catches her husband of 6 months having sex with another woman in their home. Devastating on its own. But immediately undermined by Haynes when she reveals their month-long courtship, quickie marriage and lack of true intimacy. Undermined even further when Haynes devotes all of 20 minutes to the conversation Trinity has with her father about her need to divorce. She doesn't tell her father about catching him cheating. And he doesn't ask. Just says he's glad and will take care of all of it. If Haynes couldn't take Trinity's problems seriously, I sure as hell couldn't. In the end, Trinity didn't really love him, had foolishly devoted herself to trying to please him and took the ugly work of divorcing him straight to Daddy.

Still desperately trying to find something deeper in this character, I held onto the idea that she really was struggling to find herself. Having never been truly responsible for herself, Trinity felt adrift, a stranger to herself even. I held onto that, despite my continued and growing dislike of her.

Next, she asks Daddy for a job. He gladly assigns her Accounts Payable / Accounts Receivable Supervisor. She starts work and immediately butts heads with an over-the-top nemesis--a stacked AP clerk named Inga--whom she lets walk all over her for the better part of the book. There was on-the-job sabotage, behind-your-back whispering and excessive use of the Wonder Bra to trump assets. Every step of the way, Trinity acts like an awkward pre-teen girl negotiating junior high mean girls. It was embarrassing. And Haynes weak depiction of this accounting department--its tasks and caricature-like employees and managers--only made it worse. I found Haynes' inability to build this simple setting a huge flaw.

Sounds like I pretty much hated this book, doesn't it? But I didn't hate it. I couldn't totally hate it because the relationship Trinity embarks on with Scott was...gripping. After finding her husband doing another woman, Trinity retreats to a hotel room for the night. Lamenting all that is her life in that moment, she looks in the mirror and decides she is going to do what she wants now--starting with eating what she wants and having orgasms, the kind of orgasms that muss her perfect makeup and hair. So room service and masturbation ensue.

In the room next door, a businessman hears Trinity's moans and guesses she is alone, pleasuring herself. On a bold whim, he knocks on her door and asks if he can watch. The new, bolder Trinity agrees. It is the start of a highly erotic relationship wherein she withholds her true identity and he allows her to call or email him when she wants to meet. Of all her behavior, this actually seemed the most real, the most compelling to me. In these scenes, I saw a woman, not a caricature.

The businessman, Scott, never came close to caricature. In him, Haynes succeeded in creating a living, breathing man, trying to get on with life after his wife of 22 years has divorced him. He is older, more mature and quite sexy. He is realistically self-assured and vulnerable at the same time. Oh how I wish Haynes had accomplished the same with Trinity. Had she done so, this would have glowed perfect for me.

To detract just a bit from Scott, Haynes gave him an accounting job as well. One complete with a smarmy, unrealistic VP and an obviously amorous, stalker-like co-worker. Sigh.

As their relationship unfolds, both Scott and the reader are sucked deep into an emotional connection, wanting more than anonymous sex and thrills. Trinity is there too, giving of herself and finding herself little bit by little bit. Compelling. Until Haynes takes us back to Trinity's cubicle, or back to Daddy's office, or wherever, and shows us that shallow, naive and not a little stupid girl. Worse, at one point, Haynes lets the idiot in her out in front of Scott and his college-age daughters. It was jarring.

And I don't think I can go on about this book anymore. Bottom line (I think) is that Haynes gave us a woman truly in search of herself, a woman who has spent her entire life trying to be someone she is not. When that woman forges an astonishingly honest and sensual connection with a man happy to love her for herself, Haynes gives readers a love story that captivates. Trinity indulged her physical senses and grew to appreciate her body, her own will. And Scott loved that woman. That's what got me. Really got me.

Then...Haynes ruined Trinity (and very nearly Scott), intellectually, with poorly constructed setting and awful, awful caricatures for secondary characters. Ruined them. Trinity's work experience should have fed her growing independence (as Haynes likely intended). Instead, it served to showcase her empty head. Scott's work experience should have simply added layers, background for him. Instead, Haynes' cartoon accounting world actually dumbed him down.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Bed Of Roses by Nora Roberts

Title: Bed Of Roses
Author: Nora Roberts

Type: Contemporary Romance
Series: Book 2 in the Bride quartet
Published: 2009

Blurb: As little girls MacKensie, Emma, Laurel, and Parker spent hours acting out their perfect make believe "I do" moments. Years later their fantasies become reality when they start their own wedding planning company to make every woman's dream day come true. With perfect flowers, delicious desserts, and joyful moments captured on film, Nora Roberts's Bride Quartet shares each woman's emotionally magical journey to romance.

In Bed of Roses, florist Emma Grant is finding career success with her friends at Vows wedding planning company, and her love life appears to be thriving. Though men swarm around her, she still hasn't found Mr. Right. And the last place she's looking is right under her nose.

But that's just where Jack Cooke is. He's so close to the women of Vows that he's practically family, but the architect has begun to admit to himself that his feelings for Emma have developed into much more than friendship. When Emma returns his passion-kiss for blistering kiss-they must trust in their history...and in their hearts.

Why: Duh.

Thoughts: I enjoyed this one as much if not more than the first, Vision In White. Because this is Nora Roberts, there is little left to say on characterization, prose, strength of storyline, etc. It's all good. As it always is. However, I can talk a bit about Emma and Jack, point out the one thing that didn't totally work for me and throw out a couple of thoughts sparked by this book.

I liked Emma's "normal." Great family, great friends, great job. No hang-ups here, just a true romantic who is crazy passionate about her job. And apparently she is stunningly beautiful. I loved how Roberts conveyed that...with the jokes about Emma's never-ending line of men (when she wants them) and with the male viewpoints about Emma's gorgeous Mom (with only hints at the beauty she passed to Emma). So not an outright point of discussion or internal thought, just a few well-placed jolts to let readers know she's all that and a bag of chips.

Jack is the one with the baggage. Divorced parents add up to committment issues for him. Other than that, he is a fun-loving guy, with great friends and great job. To me, he was as likable as Emma. He was not a "project" in my mind, didn't need saving or enlightening. He was just a guy living free and single for now. I figured he had plenty of time left to outgrow his aversion to committment; or that he would overcome it (without too much fanfare) when he fell for Ms. Right.

Jack and Emma share history. They are friends, fixtures in each others' lives. The conflict is a simple one--she's a romantic believer in marriage, he's not. Because Roberts masterfully balanced conflict with romance (the unfolding of it), I began and finished the story in total relax mode. Well...not entirely true. I'd had a hell of a bad day and, unable to sleep, I picked up Bed Of Roses and read it straight through. That it relaxed me, diverted my attention from personal troubles, says much for Roberts. Like I said, it was balanced. I tingled at the sexual tension, then fell in love and finally, accepted that it was time for Jack to get over it. It was all pretty smooth. And honestly, very enjoyable.

That last bit however, is the one thing that didn't totally work for me. I have never been overly romantic about marriage--not when I was young and single and not now, after 13 years of marriage. I believe in it, sure. I'm just a practical sort and can point to lots of practical reasons why folks should wait a bit on marriage. In Bed Of Roses, I wanted marriage for Emma and Jack. HEA, duh. However, I didn't totally accept Emma's anger and her friends' unwavering support of her position when Jack failed to cast off his fears and commit for the long haul. They dated for months, not years--not even A year. What in the hell was the rush exactly? I understood her feelings about wanting in his personal space. Those were fair. But wanting or viewing those things as some measure of long-term committment? Didn't completely buy it. And thought her a little immature or pollyanna for it. Although...not necessarily while in the story. Like I said, I really, really enjoyed this book. It was after putting it down that I gave thought to this little piece of unreasonableness.

One more comment before I digress to the 'sparked thoughts.' Roberts got me good with the sequel baiting for Laurel. Got. Me. Good. That one promises to be very, very sexy.

Ok, stray thoughts. First, the book itself. Just gorgeous. Almost too pretty to read. Don't know where this bit of marketing genius originated, but Wow these books are just so beautiful. Straying further...have you noticed the new squared look of book cover images online? Look at the most recent Writerspace-news email touting November releases. Look at the image of Bed Of Roses I copied from Barnes And Noble. The book cover images are squaring up. And I don't like it. Which is strange because that kind of thing rarely blips on my radar. But somehow, to me, they look less like books and more like CDs or something. Don't care for it.

Second, I did notice Roberts' inner gardener in here. In her gardening trilogy a couple years back, I thought there was far too much of the science behind gardening. In her Bride quartet, thus far, there is quite a bit about the business of weddings, including the floral arrangements. Here though, it all feels balanced and necessary to the act of immersing myself in the lives of her characters. I mention it because I followed Bed Of Roses with Jasmine Haynes' Show And Tell. In that one, I didn't have nearly enough context and it bugged. Made me think back to an example of 'work detail' that served the characters well. An example Roberts easily sets with Vows.

Without looking, I'm sure we'll get the baker's story next. Then the conclusion, featuring the group's leader, Laurel. There's an interesting question in that sequence, raised by Jessica this week. I tend to agree with her on this.

A Highlander Christmas (ARC anthology)

Apologies to Sophie Renwick, who generously sent me an ARC, and I was unable to get this posted prior to the release date. There are 3 stories in this anthology, all about MacDonald women (connected through a clan pin), and all touched by magic in some way.

In Dawn Halliday’s story, Winter Heat, Maggie MacDonald is a widow stolen from her bed by Innes Munroe, who wants to force her to marry him. She escapes and is rescued by Logan Douglas. I liked both Maggie and Logan. They are both strong characters. Halliday does a good job of bringing these two together, as Maggie nurses Logan back to health, and he awakens in her a deep and abiding love, one they were both scared to face. I’ll definitely be looking for more from Halliday (sans the love triangles), who also writes as Jennifer Haymore.

In Yuletide Enchantment, from Sophie Renwick, Isobel MacDonald falls in love with Daegan, Prince of the Sidhe that live in the woods near her family’s estate. He is a shapeshifter, and she unknowingly protects him in his white stag form. When he exposes himself to her as a Sidhe, she can’t reconcile it, and tries to deny their love. She’s also promised to an Earl, who completely believes in the Sidhe. This story fell the most outside my comfort zone, as it’s a shapeshifter, and, well… it’s a shapeshifter. And a Sidhe. A double whammy for me. But Renwick does a fine job keeping much of the focus on the main characters, although the external conflict took up a bit too much time, IMO. The story definitely benefitted from Isobel and Daegan watching and knowing each other (if only in their hearts) since she was a small child, but still would have been better served had it been a bit longer. I definitely preferred the contemporary that I read from Renwick, but like her voice and writing style a lot. I’m looking forward to the next book in her Ryder brothers series (the followup to Hot in Here), and the first full-length book in the Annwyn series (the world introduced in this anthology) is due out in March. I'll step outside my comfort zone again to read that. (you should all be impressed with me!)

A Christmas Spirit, from Cindy Miles, was my favorite of the three. Not a surprise, given that I’ve loved all of Miles’ books. How she manages to come up with a different premise for each of her stories, I will never figure out. This is the story of Paige MacDonald and Gabriel Munro (relative of Ethan Munro, hero of Highland Knight). I’m constantly amazed at how she writes some of the most sensuous, heartfelt love scenes, when her H & H can’t even touch. Just yummy. Cindy’s latest full-length book is Thirteen Chances.

For me, the anthology was worth it simply for the Miles story, and had I not received a generous ARC from Sophie Renwick, I likely would have gone against all my "I don’t buy anthology" principles and purchased it simply because of that entry. If you like anthologies, Christmas stories, Highlanders, and bits of magic, this is the anthology for you.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Damn you, Samhain. Again!

Why must they do this to me every freakin week? Honestly. Does Samhain think I'm made of money? Enough with the fantastic-sounding books that make me want them NOW!

For His Eyes Only by Avery Beck
Genre: Contemporary Romance
ISBN: 978-1-60504-686-0
Length: Category
Price: 4.50 Get it NOW for 4.05!
Cover art by Tuesday Dube

Beauty vs. power--a dangerous game with the heart as the prize...
Jacey Cass radiates confidence and sensuality just once a year, when she meets her rich and powerful lover for a night of anonymous sex. The rest of her calendar is filled with the daily struggle to survive. Her cashier job at Insomnia, Miami's hottest lingerie shop, doesn't go far toward college tuition, but she's determined to rise above her mother's freeloading legacy.

Alex Vaughn is one promotion away from realizing his life's ambition. For years he's been forced to stand by and watch his father systematically destroy the values that made Insomnia great. Now, with an expected vacancy in the summer catalog, he takes a chance. He's never formally met the fascinating woman he takes to bed every year, but he knows a marketable body when he sees one. The last thing he expects is for her to turn the opportunity down flat.

Jacey won't consider a handout--even from the man whose white-hot caress is the one bright spot of her life. Then a modeling competition's prize money lures her from behind the register and into the blinding spotlight, unaware of what the cost could be to her heart...


All Jacked Up by Lorelei James
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Red Hots!
ISBN: 978-1-60504-684-6
Length: Novel
Price: 5.50 Get it NOW for 4.95!
Cover art by Scott Carpenter

Pulling off the ultimate con...if they can keep from pulling off their clothes.
Rough Riders, Book 8

Keely McKay knows Jack--and Jack Donohue is a certified pain in her Wranglers. The lone girl in the prolific McKay family, Keely needs another man giving her orders like she needs a hole in her boot. What she does need is a restoration specialist so she can open her physical therapy clinic--and prove she's left her wild-child days behind. That means dealing with buttoned-down, uptight Jack.

Jack is this close to securing a career make-or-break project, until he learns his lack of marital status puts him out of contention. When the notoriously hot-tempered and hot-bodied Keely begs him for help, he proposes a crazy idea. He'll oversee her project--if she acts the part of his loving fiancée.

Their sizzling lust makes it all too easy to go from butting heads to knocking boots--but outside the bedroom they're as mismatched as ever. The McKays remind Jack of the humble upbringing he left behind, and cowgirl Keely feels she doesn't measure up to Jack's big-city lifestyle.

When the dust settles, Jack and Keely must face the fact they're not fooling anyone but themselves--or they'll risk losing the real deal.


Sunset Knight by Sami Lee
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Red Hots!
ISBN: 978-1-60504-689-1
Length: Novel
Price: 5.50 Get it NOW for 4.95!
Cover art by Natalie Winters

Good things come to those who dare.
Lana Green is looking for a lover. At twenty-three, she's more than ready to shed her shyness and shake up the status quo. Lucky her, the aloof bad boy she's always wanted to shake it with, Brody Nash, is back in town. Too bad he barely knows she's alive. Then an unexpected kiss makes her think her days of lusting from a distance are over. Despite the fact she's no femme fatale and has zero clue how to seduce a man, she sets out to do exactly that.

Brody hardly recognizes the alluring woman as the same gawky computer geek he left in Graceville six months ago. Lana has him spellbound, but his temporary stay in town is strictly business--running his friend's restaurant while the man's on his honeymoon. Brody doesn't do relationships, and he doesn't do permanent. But when he finds her asleep on his boat, he can't keep his hands, or any other part of his anatomy, to himself.

Things get complicated when he discovers what he thought was a casual sexual encounter has just cured her of the one thing she wanted to get rid of--her virginity.


Burn for Me by Dee Tenorio
Genre: Contemporary Romance
ISBN: 978-1-60504-685-3
Length: Novel
Price: 5.50 Get it NOW for 4.95!
Cover art by Scott Carpenter

Once burned is all it takes...
A Rancho Del Cielo Romance.

Twelve years ago, Raul Montenga left home to live life on his own terms. Yet for just as long, his nights have sizzled with erotic dreams of Penelope, the girl he left behind. Enough is enough. It's time to find out if the sparks are real, or all in his head.

Not that he expected a warm welcome, but her cold shoulder and icy rejection sting more than he cares to admit. So he's more than a little surprised to find her tomboy daughter standing nervously on his porch...claiming to be his child.

Dr. Penelope Gibson's worst nightmare isn't that her daughter wants to know her daddy. It's facing--and keeping at arm's length--her biggest youthful mistake. Now he's back and the feelings she'd thought frozen solid are melting fast. Along with her inhibitions, her clothes and her better judgment.

Problem is, Raul's not content to stop at getting acquainted with her daughter. He wants it all--Penelope's love, her body and her soul. After twelve years building a life without him, though, she's not sure she trusts him--or herself--enough to try.


No Matter What by Erin Nicholas
Genre: Contemporary Romance
ISBN: 978-1-60504-687-7
Length: Novel
Price: 5.50 Get it NOW for 4.95!
Cover art by Natalie Winters

The best doesn't come cheap...and this time it could cost him his heart.
Adam Steele is good. Good at using his money to get his way. Money always works--until he realizes he can't buy his daughter's way out of her new wheelchair. Three private physical therapists later, he's almost given up on Emily walking again. Then he meets Dr. Jaden Monroe. And his match.

Jaden doesn't know the meaning of the word "quit". But she knows a lot about "fired" after a public blowout with her ex jeopardizes the donation her hospital was counting on. Now the most tempting man she's ever met has made her just the offer she needs to save the new children's rehab wing--one million dollars to rehabilitate his daughter. In return she finds herself making Adam rash promises: that his daughter will walk in time to take the lead in the school play. And that he won't entice her into his bed. No matter what.

But Jaden didn't anticipate a teen whose injuries are more than physical. Or a man so passionate and devoted--and as tenacious as she is. As Adam wears down her defenses with kiss after kiss, the only thing harder than keeping her promise will be keeping a hold on her heart.


Protecting Phoebe by Shelli Stevens
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Red Hots!
ISBN: 978-1-60504-688-4
Length: Novella
Price: 3.50 Get it NOW for 3.15!
Cover art by Natalie Winters

With her life on the line, can she protect her heart?
A Chances Are story.

Phoebe's work at Second Chances, a women's shelter, has gone a long way toward her own healing after surviving an abusive relationship in college. She's moved on in every sense--except when it comes to dating.

Everything changes when Craig visits the shelter. The hot, young cop sets her pulse racing in a way that makes her consider making a move--and moving him into her bed for a casual fling. The first step: ask him out. Subtly, of course.

Craig has been attracted to Phoebe for months, so he's more than happy for the chance to get to know her better, in bed and out. His interest goes way beyond casual, but convincing her to think long term is going to take some time.

When it becomes clear her violent ex has come out of the woodwork, though, time is the one thing they don't have...


More information on all these books is available at Samhain, and they're available for purchase at MBaM. And cut it out now, Samhain. I'm not kidding around.

Something Sinful by Susan Enoch

Title: Something Sinful
Author: Suzanne Enoch

Type: Historical Romance
Series: Book 3 in The Griffin Family quartet
Published: 2006

Blurb: It was lust at first sight . . .

She was a vision, an exotic goddess who floated across the ballroom, conjuring images of warm nights and silk sheets, and Lord Charlemagne Griffin felt lightning shoot straight to his . . . well, he was definitely interested. So the lady isn't exactly the sharpest knife on the rack, as Shay soon discovers, but the generous bosom just above her low neckline more than makes up for it. Before he knows it, Shay is bragging about an impending business deal to impress her . . .

Lady Sarala Carlisle may appear naïve, but too late Shay realizes her unconventional beauty masks a razor-sharp intelligence and flawless instincts—and she'd just bested him! Well, two can play at this game, and one of Shay's many skills is the fine art of seduction.

But in this contest, the only thing to lose is one's heart.

Note: Blurb was misleading. I don't recall a single moment where Sarala acted dumb.

Why: Hmmm, not sure, LOL. It was in my TBR stack (by way of my library's paperback swap shelf). Wasn't on my TBR list--the one I live by--and I distinctly remember trying and not 'getting' Enoch a few years back. So who knows why I picked it. Just glad I did.

Thoughts: Two dozen pages into Something Sinful, I could have sworn I'd read it before. Seriously, a total sense of deja vu. But I was more compelled to keep reading than I was to go researching my reading log and blog. (FWIW, I checked later and nope, hadn't read this one.)

I want to say this was a light, entertaining read, but the after-glow suggests it was richer than that. I'm pretty sure this is because I read SS right after finishing Secret Desires Of A Gentleman by Guhrke. Compared to that one, Something Sinful felt deeper, more emotionally engaging.

Shay is a great 'light' hero--a savvy businessman behind a playful flirt, self-aware enough to see the foolishness in his own hellbent pursuit of the heroine. No deep dark hidden secrets, no crippling emotional baggage. Enjoys his social position and remains unpressured to marry or change the lay of his life at present. Like his siblings, he is saddled with a brooding, deep, dark, secretive brother. But he does not allow himself to be burdened by it. Concerned and watchful over him, yes. But not totally held back by it.

Sarala is an equally great 'light' heroine--the perfect blend of upbringing, age and circumstance. Raised in India, she comes to the here-and-now of this story with more life experience than the typical English debutante. Her name is exotic, her skin is tanned and her viewpoint reflects the freedom (or less restricted lifestyle) she experienced growing up in a foregin country. However, Sarala is also a debutante-age girl of some station now living among the London ton. And while she rebels some, she is not immune to the charms that ton life has to offer a girl. She enjoys the dancing, the theatre, etc.

Of the two, it is definitely Sarala that needs 'saving' in this enjoyable but predictable historical romance. In her past, the freedom she enjoyed in India also allowed for some bad to happen to her at a too-young age. In her present, she suffers the humiliation typical of her Momma's match-making mania. Despite both, Enoch gives Sarala a believable maturity and a will of her own.

So instead of a powerful hero and oh-so-vulnerable heroine, we get two smart (and smartass) and willful individuals who genuinely enjoy each other. Enoch crafted some fabulous scenes with these two--banter, sexual tension and loads of humor. That was fun. Watching them work out the rest of the details (some a bit far fetched) provided the rest of the fun. Here, Enoch gave us memorable supporting characters (Sarala's maid in particular) and interesting (but not overwhelming) insight into the brooding older brother (presumably the next in line for a book).

What else? Oh, I liked Enoch's voice as well. Not a standout, but solid. Same with characterization. Bottomline, I was easily captivated, content during the time spent with these characters. And yes, I'm sufficiently tweaked to read the older brother's story next.
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