Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Never Romance A Rake by Liz Carlyle

Title: Never Romance A Rake
Author: Liz Carlyle

Type: Historical
Published: 2008

Blurb: Baron Rothewell lives a dark, shuttered existence by day, and a life of reckless abandon by night. Scarred by a childhood filled with torment and deprivation, Rothewell cares very little anyone or anything. His life on the edge of ruin suits him—until he meets a man who just might be his nemesis. The Comte de Valigny likes to play deeply and dangerously, but Rothewell’s recklessness is undeterred. Until one night when de Valigny wagers something just a little more valuable than gold.

Mademoiselle Marchand is a desperate woman in a strange land, and her pleading eyes seem to swallow Lord Rothewell body and soul—assuming he still has one. Now the baron must play his hand with the utmost care, for at last something meaningful is at stake...

Why: Carlyle is an auto-read for me.

Thoughts: I'm irritated as I write this. First, in my search for blurb and cover pic, I realized that I read out of order here. I had both this one and Never Deceive A Duke on my TBR list--but only one in by TBR pile. Never thought to double check before plucking it from my stack. And shame on me for feeling stupid or irked about it. Reading is fun and I swear I make it more like work.

Then, when organizing my thoughts, I realized I could very well be ruined for reading. Cuz again, while I enjoyed Never Romance A Rake very, very much, it still felt less than satisfying. I fear I'm ruined for good old fashioned romance.

What I liked and didn't like: I liked the beginning best. Because it was dark. Rothewell begins as a menacing, self-serving bastard. With a conscious scarred by childhood abuse and a new regret brought on by illness. In just pages, Carlyle pens a vulnerable bastard we long to see redeemed.

Then she introduces him to the heroine. And just minutes into that scene, we ache. For an emotionally-battered heroine, wagered and lost by her slimy father. But ahhh, into the protective yet dangerous hands of our dark hero.

Hooked in pages. Love, love, love this premise. Always have, always will. Especially when written by an author whose prose stands stands well above the rest.

So I was thrilled to have a book inhand that I didn't want to put down. Carlyle went on to introduce new and interesting characters, each with their own depth and free will. She also invited characters from prior books, of which I loved George Kemble the most. Just adore that man.

The story unfolded beautifully. Up until, in one paragraph, Carlyle planted a flat-out stereotypical seed of villainry. Instantly I thought, oh, so that's how it's going to be, a trusted individual turned villain. I was disappointed I think, because 1) it seemed contrived and, 2) the heroine appeared dumb as a box of rocks in the face of it.

I continued on, as the story really was quite good. Totally centered on their growing relationship and with one, yet-to-be revealed conflict or obstacle.

Then, I stalled out. Flooded by too much internal thought or dialogue, by both hero and heroine. Enough already with the should-I-or-shouldn't-I-love-him/her. It grew tiresome. I loved how Carlyle brought each of them into the here and now; both grow up emotionally right before our eyes. His self-examination in particular is almost stunning. But for every moment of self-truth, Carlyle inadvertantly cluttered the feeling with too much hemming and hawing over their relationship.

For these stretches, I found myself preferring the company of Carlyle's secondary characters over the H/H. And they delivered. Especially Kemble. He featured prominently in the undoing of Carlyle's red herring villain. I was very happy with that turn and pleased with the way Carlyle brought it all to a close.

So, looking back, for purposes of this review, maybe I'm not totally ruined for simple romance. I am however, much less tolerant--and more inclined than ever to ditch--when I encounter elements that try my patience. In this case, the prolonged and unnecessary brow-beating over whether or not to love. That made me impatient in more than one place and I'm both irritated and apologetic about it. Apologetic because I'm starting to wonder if it's me.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

My Immortal Protector by Jen Holling

Title: My Immortal Protector
Author: Jen Holling

Type: Scottish Historical / Paranormal (half and half)
Published: 2008

Blurb: A fiery witch able to communicate with animals, Deidra MacKay longs to relinquish her powers -- they bring her nothing but misfortune and danger. So when she learns that years ago, her ancestors signed a blood pact with a vampire, cursing the MacKay clan with witchcraft, she presumes that a member of the undead can also take her magic away. So she embarks on a quest to find the one who can hopefully ease her misery.

An embittered and crippled Scotsman, Stephen Ross lives as a recluse -- hiding from the world in a dreary castle. But when the intriguing and adorable Deidra arrives at his door hoping he is a vampire, he is intoxicated and aroused by her company. He joins her on her journey, hoping a vampire's magic might also heal his wounds -- and soon finds himself enraptured in the heat of passion with Deidra, an affair that could put both their lives at stake.

Why: Couple months back, I read My Wicked Highlander by Holling. Liked it enough to consider reading the rest of the series (the MacDonell Brides). JenB commented that she had just finished and liked My Immortal Protector--a spinoff in the same series and much more recent. She graciously sent it on to me (thanks again JenB!) and I finished it this week.

Thoughts: Really, really torn. I adored the first half of the book. And was terribly disappointed in the last half.

First Half:

Holling's characterization was fabulous and, as a result, the romance was engaging and delightful. Both hero and heroine are flawed and both are self-determined, part-time outcasts. He has squirreled himself away in the mountains, but maintains a staff and dutifully corresponds with family and friends. She--gifted with the ability to talk with animals--has purposefully shut them out and lives every day in complete denial of who she is--a witch, ruthlessly hunted by a lunatic.

He is not at all what you expect and she is far stronger than you can imagine. Together, through trial and error, they arrive at a dialogue or banter that is frank and unapologetic. Holling is so clever on this point. She doesn't give us just confident wise-acres. Nor does she give us just sensitive, damaged souls. She gives us layers, depth--characters who are unafraid to speak their mind but emotionally vulnerable to any rebuttal. I could feel the character and relationship growth here. It was palpable and I was enthralled.

I remained enthralled despite the book's scarier moments--where the heroine falls into the hands of the lunatic. Torture or suggested torture is always a look-away moment for me. Can't stomach it. Here, I cared too much about the characters to look away. Skim a tiny, tiny bit, yes; but not totally abandon her. Really, these made for some of the most powerful scenes.

Second half:

This is where the story's premise kicked in. Hero and heroine are brought together to seek out a blood witch believed capable of removing her gift (a curse as she sees it) and his physical disability and pain. A blood witch is esentially a vampire. In the last half (or maybe third) of the book, the hero connects with the blood witch. I didn't like the outcome. At all. It essentially un-did the characterization and relationship established up and to that point. It was such a disconnect that I nearly put the book down, unfinished.

I continued pretty much in hope that Holling would surprise me. With no HEA in sight, she had plenty of room to get inventive. I had to wait until the book's very last pages. Only to learn that Holling was not going to surprise me. She took the expected, most traveled, beaten down path to a workable HEA.

In Holling's defense, I wasn't at all surprised by the book's end. I did read the blurb afterall. My only surprise here was in how much I enjoyed Holling's characters and their romance. Great, great stuff. I enjoyed them so much that somehow my expectation for their future changed. I wanted more for them.

And I think they wanted more for themselves. Because this felt as if Holling's beautiful story of two people was hijacked by her pre-sold plot. I often hear writers speak of characters that tell their own story, characters that demand an arc that doesn't match their creator's. In this book, it's as though the characters' demands went unheeded. Consequently, their voices dimmed and their connection to each other thinned.

One final--and yet another--contradicting thought. The next book in this series--clearly, clearly, clearly on the paranormal side--more than intrigues me. I have definite plans to read it.

Overall...to recommend or not to recommend? As this was a 50/50 read for me--half fab and half fail--I guess I could go either way.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Wicked Ties by Shayla Black

Title: Wicked Ties
Author: Shayla Black

Type: Erotic Romantic Suspense
Published: 2007

Blurb: When a stalker ratchets up his attempts to get to her, cable sex talk show host Morgan O'Malley turns to Jack Cole-a self-proclaimed dominant- for help. Though Jack is a bodyguard, Morgan feels anything but safe in his presence. Because slowly and seductively, Jack is bringing her deepest fantasies to the surface. And when he bends her to his will, what's more shocking than her surrender is how much she enjoys it and how she starts to crave his masterful touch. A willing player in Jack's games, Morgan knows that his motives aren't pure. But she has no idea how personal they are.

Why: Don't really remember...I was either lured by the blurb or a blogger review.

Thoughts: D.N.F. She's an idiot and he's a domineering asshole. For a sex talk show host, she is ridiculously squeamish. And for a highly-touted security specialist, he's remarkably oblivious to his surroundings.

This was one of those erotic romances wherein the author completely fails to construct a believable scenario or plot to accommodate the sex.

It was also an example of how piss poor writing makes it to the published page for no other reason than the hot sex scenes.

Repetitive, mind-numbing internal thought. Abrupt, impossible-to-follow changes in POV. A veritable garbage can of all that is popular--a paranormal touch, stalker, hero revenge, BDSM, etc.


Pulling the blurb and cover shot from Barnes and Noble, I learned that Shayla Black is Shelley Bradley. Any of you ever read Bradley?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Mercy Street by Mariah Stewart

OK, I have said it over and over. HUGE Mariah Stewart fangirl here. The last book, Forgotten, was a meh read for me, which was horrendously disappointing. With Mercy Street, she is back on my praiseworthy list.

This is the first in a new series. Two teens are missing, suspects in the murders of their two close friends. Mallory Russo is an ex-detective brought in as a PI to help find the missing teens, and Charlie Wanamaker is the current detective assigned to the case. Mallory is hired by the local parish priest, but is bankrolled by the Robert Magellan, local gazillionaire, whose own wife and son have been missing for almost 2 years.

As Mallory and Charlie work together to find the missing kids, they discover they are very attracted to one another. Each has personal issues to deal with as well; Mallory was on the police force until she reported her partner to IA, and Charlie has weighty family issues to deal with. But they work beautifully together, and become a wonderful team.

I really liked both Mallory and Charlie. They were down to earth, bright, sharp cops, who thought outside the box and weren't in their jobs for the glory. They wanted the best outcome possible for their case. Neither wallowed in self-pity, nor did they suffer self-flaggelation for any perceived misedeeds. They just went about their business of finding the missing kids and moving on with their lives.

Their budding romance was more than Stewart has put into her books in quite some time... meaning, there was actually a romance, not just a hint of one. Sex and everything. I loved how Charlie cared for Mallory, especially after one particularly harrowing event, and was open about how he wanted to have a relationship with her. In turn, Mallory frequently asked him about his family and offered her support. It reminded me that Stewart started out writing romance with a little suspense mixed in, not the other way around. (side note: if you haven't read any of her oldies but goodies, I highly recommend it!)

The other storyline revolves around Robert Magellan and his assistant. Susanna is obviously in love with him, but he has become increasingly withdrawn since the disappearance of his wife and son, becoming cynical and distrusting. Only Susanna, Kevin (his cousin the priest), and his housekeeper are on his list of trusted close friends. It's a bit heartbreaking to read how this is playing out for both Robert and Susanna, but I hope that Stewart will give him a HEA eventually, as well as some closure.

With any other author (exceptions: Rose and Jackson) I might say the suspense was perfectly written in, but I was surprised at the lack of grizzliness and gruesomeness in this book. I'm torn, because I love that part of her books. However, while the suspense and the villain aren't as gripping as in some of her past books, it's just enough to keep the book moving at a nice clip. This was definitely more of a return to relationship building for Stewart, which was a very pleasant surprise. She writes it beautifully, and I've missed it.

Her characterization was excellent, as always. You really feel as though you know these characters by the end of the book. You care about them. Root for them. Even the missing kids. Through their families, Stewart gives us a glimpse into who they are, and we want them to be alive and well... and innocent.

Stewart ends the book with the foundation for her new series: the Mercy Street Foundation. Funded by Robert and headed by Mallory, it is an independent group of investigators who will take on cold missing person cases. Sounds interesting. The next book, Cry Mercy, is due out April 28.

Find out more about both books here.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Marrying the Captain by Carla Kelly

OBC Blurb: Ever since her father tried to sell her as a mistress to the highest bidder, Eleanor Massie has chosen to live in poverty. Her world changes overnight when Captain Oliver Worthy shows up at her struggling inn. Despite herself, Nana is drawn to her handsome guest….

Oliver planned to stay in Plymouth only long enough to report back to Lord Ratliffe — about Nana. But he soon senses that Lord Ratliffe is up to something, and Oliver will do anything to keep this courageous, beautiful woman safe — even marry her!


Like Wendy, I am a Harlequin Historicals ho. I admit it. And every now and again, they come up with one that makes me sigh such a contented sigh when I close the book. This is one such book. The focus is almost completely on Oliver and Nana, and their love story.

I loved Oliver and Nana. Their relationship was so natural, so gentle. Oliver is a lifelong military man, yet he's a fair-minded commander, kind to his men, inspiring loyalty. There are definite touches of reality, along with a glimpse of his gentler side, almost immediately. He is embarrassed by having to use the chamberpot in front of Nana (something I always wonder about in historicals, BTW!). He realizes that she has seen him naked while he was ill. I loved the scene where he went to the wigmaker to look at the hair that Nana sold. So sweet, and a wonderful glimpse into his growing feelings for her.

Nana, for her part, was strong, doing what needed to be done. She sold her hair in order to keep food on the table. She matter-of-factly took care of Oliver when he was ill. No vapors for her. But she had a gentler side as well. She didn't feel good enough for Oliver - worrying that as a bastard child she would bring him down. I did like that Kelly didn't drag that storyline out too long, and allowed Oliver to persuade Nana fairly quickly. It's one of my least favorite plots.

As for the romance... it's set against the Napoleonic wars in Plymouth, where many a ship came into dock for repairs or for furlough. I loved how the relationship between Oliver and Nana developed. I loved how Oliver, as the son of a vicar (so many military men were), would call upon something that his father would have said or done, or thought about a teaching from his father. He was obviously a good man, who had a good upbringing. Yet at the same time, as a lifelong military man, his biggest fear was of marrying and leaving his wife a widow.

The romance between the two was so sweet to watch - even after he left to go back to the war. They wrote letters, he sent her a gift. And in a particularly heartbreaking scene, after they are married, he cries in her arms over the death of his first mate.

She was the perfect mate for him, and I loved it. The ending, with its bit of spying, and Nana chasing after him in order to deliver a ransom, was a bit far-fetched, but didn't dwindle my enjoyment of this wonderful romance. The blurb implies that Oliver felt forced to marry her. Nothing could be further from the truth. This was a love story, through and through. So many of the books we read are difficult to call real romances. I truly felt like I was reading a romance between these two. How marvelous it was.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Promises In Death by J.D. Robb

Title: Promises In Death
Author: J.D. Robb

Type: Police Procedural/Futuristic (calling it what they call it)
Published: 2009

Blurb: Amaryllis Coltraine may have recently transferred to the New York City police force from Atlanta, but she's been a cop long enough to know how to defend herself against an assailant. When she's taken down just steps away from her apartment, killed with her own weapon, for Eve the victim isn't just "one of us."

Dallas's friend Chief Medical Examiner Morris had started a serious relationship with Coltraine, and from all accounts the two were headed for a happy future together. But someone has put an end to all that. After breaking the news to Morris, Eve starts questioning everyone, including Coltraine's squad, informants, and neighbors, while Eve's husband, Roarke, digs into computer data on the dead woman's life back in Atlanta. To their shock, they discover a connection between this case and their own painful, shadowy pasts.

The truth will need to be uncovered one layer at a time, starting with the box that arrives at Cop Central addressed to Eve, containing Coltraine's guns, badge, and a note from her killer: "You can have them back. Maybe someday soon, I'll be sending yours to somebody else." But Eve Dallas doesn't take too kindly to personal threats, and she is going to break this case, whatever it takes. And that's a promise.

Why: Duh.

The case: Good. Strong. Not as complex as the last one, but still interesting. I never guess the villian's identity in Robb's books. Don't know if that's because Robb, a master storyteller, twists and tugs the leads beyond my comprehension or if Robb, a master storyteller, pulls me so completely into the story that I can't look beyond or around the words as I read them. Either way, I'm always surprised to learn who-dunnit and always proud of her--much like Roarke--for figuring it out. I'm also always satisfied with the how of it--doesn't matter to me if she employs brilliant deductive reasoning or simply applies herself to the tedious grunt work until the answer shows up.

Funny. When I think of it, there is such a format here. The cop house and morgue, chain of command and procedure, character and role. It's like Law And Order--in all of its flavors--on TV. We love it. And we've loved it for years.

As for the personal layer to this case, that was...honest. I liked how the women acknowledged how little they knew the victim and more importantly, why. Perfectly juxtaposed against Louise's bridal shower--a total girl-fest. This one gave us as much girl-love as it did H/H love. Liked that.

The cast: True to character, always. And always with the same depth--it matters not if they have one or one hundred lines of dialogue. Summerset, for example. Again, master storyteller at work here, so I don't know if that is sheer talent or the benefit of more than two dozen character-growing books. I know in other series, regular (secondary) cast members don't always penetrate that surface-level purpose (be it to entertain or offer sage advice). Here, Robb's cast can hardly be called secondary anymore. Peabody, Feeney, McNab--they are primary characters with more than the occasional sub-plot spotlight. They are as integral as Eve and Roarke.

Oh, and there was mention of the Catholic priest from last year's installment. Didn't I tell ya? He belongs here, with this group.

Eve and Roarke: Casual, despite the appearance of a huge past nemesis. Static, aside from an unusual moment where Eve flirts for a date with Roarke. Overall, maybe a little muted--a nanosecond flare of his temper, her customary regret over worrying him, their lightening quick banter. It was all there, just...muted, or even-keeled. No unusually high or low points in humor, passion or understanding. Which did not translate into boring or disappointing. There were laughs, there was charm. Chuckles and sighs. Contentment instead of growing pains. But I think I might be ready for them, their marriage, to be challenged again.

I do love that they romp often. That's fun.

In short, I loved it.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Jen's February Reads

Hmmmpf. Here I am again, about to recap the handful of books I read in February and....again, will accompany the recap with more empty promises about actually reviewing those books.

Ah well.

Fewer books in February than the prior month. And no, it had nothing to do with it being a short month.

Fire And Ice by Julie Garwood
I finished it. Don't know if Garwood's voice simply fails to translate well in contemporary romances or if her voice is simply failing. Either way, a disappointment. Info dumps, stereotypes in the place of characters, sparkless romance, far-fetched villainry. Not sure why I continued. I guess it was because I realized--a few chapters in--that this one follows a previous contemp she wrote about an agent (FBI, I think) and a hotel hieress. I recalled liking that one and read this follow up--through to the end--out of loyalty. I guess.

Dark Of Night by Suzanne Brockmann
Buddy review with Lori here. Brockmann is a sure thing for me.

Strip Poker by Lisa Lawrence
This one made it to my TBR list via Wendy's review. I'll say I was as wowed by Lawrence's first person narrative and the characterization of Teresa, the book's (and series') protagonist. It was not however, a page turner for me. Took me two weeks to get through it. I'll tip my hat to Lawrence, no question. But didn't find a must-read author for me here. Not because it isn't romance, but rather because it's info-heavy. More than strong, but not my cuppa.

Kiss Of The Demon King by Kresley Cole
This is one I really should review. Another in my Fucking Fabulous category.

First You Run by Roxanne St. Clair
For the first time in a long time, I read a book--specifically a quick, light read--and it was just right. This was it. I was in my second day of the flu--too weak to move around much but strong enough to read (not true of day one of the flu). So, on that second day, I laid on the couch and read this book front to back. It fit a type--but I won't label it formulaic or stereotypical. It was a solid read and I plan to read the one that follows--Then You Hide--when next in the mood.

Five books. One review (thanks Lori!).

March will be better. I'm about to put my foot down with (on the neck of) our family's cruise director. Plan to tell him that we need not book every hour of every weekend with fun. Nor do we need to schedule 3 to 4 weeknight activities for after work and school hours. [Made my mind up on this as I folded clothes, fresh out of the dryer, at 5:30 this morning. Find a balance and the other half mucks it up. Grrr.] I digress.

March will also be a good month I think because I was able to get a do-over on three Megan Hart ebooks I bought in January. Bought and downloaded them, then switched out computers. Never got to read them. They just reactivated my download buttons last weekend. So yeah, three ebook novellas--that'll get my numbers up.

Plus, it's only March 3rd and I've finished Promises In Death.

Yup. March will be stronger.
Related Posts with Thumbnails