Thursday, April 30, 2009

Reread Challenge - April: He Said Yes by Patricial Waddell

OK, I have to admit I'm cheating a little here. I've got the serious blogging blues. I'll say that I loved this book as much this time around as I did the first two. Yup - this is my third read of this one. I haven't read it, though, in 3 years, so it was like opening an old box of love letters. You know that they are something that made you feel wonderful, but you can't quite remember exactly what was in them.

I'm reprinting my original review of this book below, cause I couldn't come close to being this eloquent these days, LOL. How did I manage it all? Ahhh... I was still working part time then. I remember now... So here's my review from Jan 06. You can read the review of the entire series here.

This, really the 2nd (the first was a short in an anthology that, actually, I never read, but you don't need to read it to begin with this 1st full length), is a story about the Marquis of Waltham, Marshall. He is looking for a long term relationship, although has no intention of marrying. So, a mistress it will be, but he is sick of the "scene" and wants someone he can truly care about (without marrying her, of course). He meets Evelyn Dennsworth. She works in a dressshop, she's the daughter of a pastor, and has been arrested and accused of theft. He feels drawn to her and can't help but exert his standing in society to assist her in clearing herself of the charges. The description of Evelyn's feelings as she goes to trial is remarkable, you really feel the terror and shame right along with her. Marshall takes her home to his estate under the guise of being a companion to his stepmother, who has recently lost her husband, Marshall's father. You can guess the rest.

What is wonderful about this book is the depth of character development - Waddell doesn't shy away from the agonizing feelings of despondence and guilt for going on without your true love (his father's was truly a love match). In many ways, this is really Evelyn and Constance's (the stepmother) story. How Evelyn unselfishly draws Constance out of her shell of grief is beautifully and sensitively written. Marshall's precocious 10 year old half-sister is a wonderful character, full of life and love for her family - no spoiled villains in this family.

Marshall is also truly unselfish, loving his stepmother and wanting her to be whole again. He understands her grief, because he, too, loved his father completely and without reservation. She does not miraculously recover from losing her husband of 20 years. Her descent into grief and laborious climb out of its depths is emotional for all the characters, and therefore to the reader as well.

There is not a false moment, a false feeling or emotion in this book. Although he wants Evelyn for his mistress, he firmly believes she is the right person to be Constance's companion. Watching the love and depth of feeling unfold between Marshall and Evelyn is wonderful as well. Their strength and passion and character are well portrayed. Waddell doesn't rush these feelings, and gives them time to develop. As the reader, by the time I knew they were truly in love, I had totally bought into it. The story is believably, beautifully written. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Playing Dirty by GA Hauser

Having written a glowing review of Acting Naughty, there was a lot I didn’t like about Playing Dirty. Hauser spent a lot of time in book 1 character building. These guys are moral guys who find themselves in an upside-down crazy new M/M relationship after living their entire lives as straight men – not closeted straight men, but straight men.

There is a conversation in book 1 where Keith says to Carl that he believes that sex should be between two people who love each other. He’s only had sex with two women before meeting Carl.

There’s the set-up. This book deals with the discovery of a new identity as a gay man. Keith spends a lot of time asking himself and Carl, "Can a gay man be faithful?" buying into the stereotypes himself of flagrant, rampant promiscuity among the homosexual community, even though that isn’t how he was raised, and it isn’t how he himself ever believed or acted.

The book picks up almost immediately where book 1 left off, or very shortly thereafter. Keith is suddenly dying to try a threesome (although he agrees that the third guy cannot have intercourse with either him or Carl), and is doing and saying things that are totally out of character for the man that Hauser built him up to be in book 1. This was where I had my biggest problem. His dialogue was all of a sudden very stereotypical, and not at all what I had come to expect from this sweet, bashful, nice guy. Carl, while trying to point out to Keith that this wasn’t who he really is, went along for the ride and enjoyed himself immensely as well.

I don’t know if Hauser was trying to get across that being "who he truly was" felt so liberating that Keith lost himself in the joy of "being gay" or if she was simply trying to introduce the main character of her next book, but either way, it served to really take away my enjoyment of this highly committed, very close and very loving couple.

There were flashes of there wondering, joyful, bemused love that was so beautifully portrayed in Acting Naughty, but most of the book was so out of character for the two men that I was left with a sour taste in my mouth, and thinking that the book should have been called "Feeling Dirty", because that’s the way it left me.

Acting Naughty by GA Hauser

This is one of those books that I had absolutely no idea what to expect when I opened it. It’s an amazingly sweet and emotional story about two straight guys hired to play a gay couple in the hottest nighttime drama on cable. One of the guys, Keith, has a live-in girlfriend, although they haven’t been getting it on a lot lately (her issue). The other, Carl, is the more established actor (he’s been on the show an entire season), and it’s been a long time since his last relationship.

Each week, the sex on the show ramps up, and they are required to do some very intimate scenes in front of the camera. As they grow closer both on and off the set, they have to deal with the emotional issues that come with discovering you have feelings for and are strongly attracted to someone of your own sex.

I thought Hauser did a really good job of showing all of the feelings that these guys would have – the confusion, the insecurity, the self-flagellation, the fearfulness of discovery, both personally and for the future of their careers as leading men. At the same time, their budding feelings of love and sexuality were being played out on a TV set in front of camera and crew. In addition, they had to deal with the prejudices of the external world while everything solid they knew was going up in flames around them. Keith’s father and Carl’s friends all display homophobia in their own ways.

I really liked the honesty I felt portrayed in this book. I liked that internal dialogue that the characters had, especially during their sexual encounters. The "can I suck him, should I swallow, will it be gross?" dialogue both guys had within their own heads was so real. Often in these types of books, guys jump head first (no pun intended) into the sex and are seeming experts their first time out. These guys fumbled their way through their first encounters like the M/M virgins they were. It had a raw, honest, open quality to it.

While it has a semblance of a HEA (they are in love, and happy together), they are still in the closet and unable to be seen together in public, which is what the 2nd book is about. Aside from the very few language issues I had (that should have been caught by her editor) – you can tell that Hauser lives in the UK, we don’t call our cell phones 'mobiles' here, we don’t say we’re 'keen' to do this or that – Acting Naughty was excellent. I really liked it a lot.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Silent In The Grave by Deanna Raybourn

Title: Silent In The Grave
Author: Deanna Raybourn

Type: Historical Romance / Mystery
Published: 2007

Blurb: "Let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave."

These ominous words, slashed from the pages of a book of Psalms, are the last threat that the darling of London society, Sir Edward Grey, receives from his killer. Before he can show them to Nicholas Brisbane, the private inquiry agent he has retained for his protection, Sir Edward collapses and dies at his London home, in the presence of his wife, Julia, and a roomful of dinner guests.

Prepared to accept that Edward's death was due to a longstanding physical infirmity, Julia is outraged when Brisbane visits and suggests that Sir Edward has been murdered. It is a reaction she comes to regret when she discovers the damning paper for herself, and realizes the truth.

Determined to bring her husband's murderer to justice, Julia engages the enigmatic Brisbane to help her investigate Edward's demise. Dismissing his warnings that the investigation will be difficult, if not impossible, Julia presses forward, following a trail of clues that lead her to even more unpleasant truths, and ever closer to a killer who waits expectantly for her arrival.

Why: Blogger buzz--sometime last year--put this one on my TBR list. New buzz, this one surrounding another Raybourn release this Spring, called it to mind.

Thoughts: Easily hooked. By its first person narrative, self-depracating humor and English sleuthing. And yes, I pretty much swallowed the hook at the first line (just as many of you reported):

"To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor."

There was a rhythm to Silent In The Grave and it took me a bit to settle into it. At first, I was simply surprised. SITG was not at all what I expected. I started page one without having read the blurb, without having visited the author's website. So the first person narrative was a surprise. Second, SITG is relatively slow-paced. It felt open-ended, more an unfurling than a complete story. Not sure when I started to wonder about its destination--and whether it would take chapters or books to get there--but I think it was early.

Once I settled down, I began to enjoy and appreciate the narrator's uncertainty. She had an outside-looking-in perspective, even when examining her own life, her own thoughts. That detachment was something I could relate to and I thought Raybourn conveyed it honestly and without prejudice. As though Raybourn could care less if we liked her heroine. She is who she is--neither a convenient product of her environment nor an emotionally-wrought survivor. Personally, I liked her. Although she was unremarkable, she had that maturity about her--the kind of maturity that brings her to step around the opinions of her peers and do what she likes.

Combined with a lethal sense of humor, Julia's mature self reminded me of Captain Lacey--another English sleuth with his own multi-book deal (authored by Ashley Gardner). From here, I became more interested in clues than character development. Raybourn's stubborn pace held me fast however, and I had to sit as impatiently as Julia, waiting for more of the puzzle pieces. I'm not sure I liked Raybourn's refusal to move the story along here. I didn't mind the mystery of Brisbane so much, but I did grow weary everytime Julia was relegated to tidying up this or that room. She seemed to alternate between an active and passive role--in her own life. Artfully done by Raybourn, but difficult to watch for the reader.

As for Brisbane, he was the perfect ass. And flawed beyond the heroine and reader's understanding. I have to say I stuck with Julia on this--curiously affected in some moments and bored in others. I'm fairly certain I was less naive than Julia though. I figured him for a gypsy early on. Julia seemed oblivious to all of those clues. Dumb even. Not sure if Raybourn was going for dumb there, or if she meant for Julia to simply appear distracted by her own coming of age issues. Whatever the intent, the outcome was, well, dumb. Fitting as I read on though...because its her narrative and, more than once, she tells us readers she can be a bit stupid.

As for the whodunit, Raybourn wrapped that to my satisfaction. Really, by then, I was back to caring more about character growth than crime-solving. By this time, I was thoroughly engrossed in Julia's detachment, contrasting it to her father's flamboyance and her sister's bleeding edge sexuality. Trying to reconcile Julia's automaton with her occasional wit and daring. Interesting stuff.

Interesting enough that I've already received the second installment--Silent In The Sanctuary--through my library and am contemplating buying the third on my next grocery trip.

Word On The Web:

Rosario, unimpressed

Carolyn Jean, "wonderfully gothic"

The Book Smugglers, "a stunner of a debut"

Musings of a Bibliophile, A

Reading Adventures, "A terrific read."

My Two Cents, "Excellent debut novel."

You can buy Silent In The Grave here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Highlander Never Surrenders by Paula Quinn

Title: A Highlander Never Surrenders
Author: Paula Quinn

Type: Scottish Historical
Published: 2008


Defending Her Was His Duty
Skilled with a sword and quick with her wit, Scottish rebel Claire Stuart cannot be tamed. And nothing can deter her from rescuing her beloved sister and saving them both from arranged marriages—not even the handsome Highlander who vows to protect Claire. His scorching gaze and fiery kiss bring her to the brink of surrender, but she belongs to no man . . .

Seducing Her Would Be His Reward
Graham Grant has had his share of lasses. But he has never met one as headstrong or as bonnie as Claire—or one with such desperate, dangerous plans. Helping her could betray his honor, his country, and more. Graham can't claim her. Yet everything in him says: Take her, make her yours, teach her pleasure, and never let her go.

Why: Recently enjoyed Laird Of The Mist and wished to read its follow-up.

Thoughts: Oh, I liked it. Very much. When I read LOTM, I had a constant comparison running through my head--recalling every character and plotline I'd ever read that was similar to Quinn's. I even commented on it in my review. While reading A Highlander Never Surrenders, I forgot about all else and just enjoyed the journey. This was an arrangement of characters and arcs that did not remind; they simply entertained.

Especially the heroine. She was fabulous. This was a lass (love that term) who really was a warrior; not just one who played at being a warrior. She trained under her twin brother, a rebel leader of sorts, and went off to battle. She knows no fear. Seriously, she was medieval Scotland's version of Eve Dallas. And I loved her.

And because he accepted her for exactly who she was, as she was, I loved the hero as well. This was a man who enjoyed her fighting ability and warrior instincts as much as the fact that she was a woman--one his knuckle-dragger self meant to conquer. Oh yeah, it was all here. The Highlander prescription for romance. If it lacked anything, it was the typical gentle assurances during her "first time." Graham didn't waste time with that and neither did she. All good.

There was a second romance that worked very well too. And while it was nice that Quinn made sure to find someone for Robert--the third wheel in the first half of the book--I have to say I was really enjoying the time spent with him and the H and H. Their insults were as deftly wielded as their swords. That was fun. Even more so when the rest of Quinn's Highlanders showed up.

The mystery here was engaging as well. It may not have been unique, but I was stymied. Enough that I read every word, right up to the end. Of late, I find myself skimming the last dozen or fifty pages wherein the historical romance writer ties up all the loose ends. I feel like I pretty much know how that is going to go--having read a gazillion of them. Not so here. Either I was so engrossed in the romance that I didn't pay close attention to the political intrigue, or Quinn succeeded in making me care about the outcome of that power struggle. Regardless, I was hooked from start to finish.

I was also loathe to put the book down, testament to the fun I was having. I am just so, so sorry that Quinn's work ends here. There ARE three non-Scot historicals penned before LOTM, and I may go read them. But truthfully, I want more of Quinn's Scots. THESE Scots. Her site indicates some WIPs featuring the sons and daughters of her LOTM and AHNS protagonists, but I fear that will feel much like it used to when my soap operas grew their offspring into adults overnight. Blech.

Ah well. These two books were great fun and reminiscent of the joy I experienced in my early Garwood days.

Word On The Web: Heather liked it. So did Rowena.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Seraphim by Shelby Reed

Title: Seraphim
Author: Shelby Reed

Type: Paranormal Romance
Published: 2005

Blurb: When a masked group claiming to be warrior angels kidnaps Gia Rossi, she believes it's retaliation for her wealthy husband's shady dealings. Squired into a high-tech underground world by her strangely gentle captors and placed under the tutelage of Joachim, their handsome leader, she soon learns that among her lost childhood treasures is a medallion, which places the fate of the world in her hands. Gia's job is simple: locate the relic and lead the angels to it…and somehow, fight the forbidden attraction that fast develops between her and Joachim.

As commander of the angelic warriors, Joachim must protect Gia and, with her help, locate the sacred relics needed to conquer the demon Therides. But Joachim doesn't count on falling prey to sexual attraction when it comes to their beautiful, headstrong captive and soon another battle commences, one between consuming desire for his charge and a weighty sense of celestial duty. For if Joachim and Gia succumb to the fire smoldering between them, it could prove to be the end of both their worlds.

Why: Years back, I read Reed's Midnight Rose and fell instantly in love with her stunning prose. A friend shared her backlist with me and I just now managed to pull one out and read it.

Thoughts: Wow. The kind of Wow that makes you want to take out an advertisement on behalf of this author. Or storm some publisher's office, demanding she be given her due. Or ring up the author herself and insist she come of out hiding.

Seriously, Reed's prose is more beautiful than any other I've ever read. And, she crafts a story as elegant and moving as the words she uses to tell it. It's a win-win. Fucking fabulous. Fucking flawless. I could go on.

The blurb is dead on, but I will note, for the record, that the romance felt expertly balanced against the higher purpose in the story. I was equally moved by both. Also for the record, Seraphim is labeled as erotic romance. And to be entirely honest with myself, there is a good deal of the physical in here. However, be it through Reed's elegant prose or the emotional connection she forges, these scenes read unlike any other. They are breathtaking, both in tension and repercussion.

There is also a plot--one that pits good against evil in near military-like opposition, with all events leading up to a final confrontation. That being said however, my recollection of Seraphim is entirely of the personal conflict--within and between hero and heroine. Reed deftly breaks Joachim's stoic with passion and breath; and challenges a selfish Gia with joy and humility. A painful contrast that reflected the overarching nature of their conflict.

Joachim is an angel, guardian to Gia. To save her soul, his mission requires him to live as a human. But as he succumbs to the desires of his human body, both Gia and reader ache for him. For his loss. We're selfish in our desire for him, but honest about its cost. The choice between taking his place in the realm of God or spending a human lifetime with Gia is an impossible one. It grows more impossible, more gut-wrenching when he, Gia and the reader realize he is in love with her--a far more potent emotion to him than his Christian love for her.

Reverse the order of this journey and you see Gia's conflict. A selfish survivor, she is now charged with saving humankind--risking her life for all. There is little depth to her in the beginning, and despite her chosen status, even the angels have second thoughts about their ability to tap her goodness. At the personal, H/H level, her initial contempt, soon replaced by lust, for Joachim also cast little hope for her redemption. Amazingly, it his patience--namely his patient (Christian) love--that ultimately penetrates, that equips her to choose right and selfless over wrong. It starts slow, her emotional thawing, but when it's done, it is as painful as Joachim's struggle. Like his, it is painful in its impossibility. She knows joy; she knows humility; she knows she must accept Joachim's place in God's realm, what it means to him. But she also knows a deeper love--for him--than she has ever known.

And none of it--for either one of them--can be reconciled. That is the crux of what drew me here. I need an HEA, expect one. But nothing moves me more, nothing captures my attention more than the impossibility of one. Contrary, I know. The inevitability of an HEA aside, I like being pulled unerringly toward an ending I cannot predict, an ending I may fear or one that make not make me happy. Reed's obstacles were that powerful--and they kept me immersed in Joachim and Gia's story.

Reed's characterization is equally riveting. By the time Joachim and Gia realized the depth of their love, they were real enough to me that I shed tears for them--I experienced the same overwhelming powerlessness and desperation in the face of their impossible love. The same self-righteous denial and subsequent guilt. And the same disquiet, when it was all over and he was gone. Again, Reed held my focus to within inches of these two, letting their circumstances and their peers move around me, getting the rest of it done. It is their emotional journey--individually and together--that I remember most.

Around them, Reed did succeed in staging that battle between God's angels and Satan's demons. Her villains--the demon and his army--were vile and thankfully absent for much of the book. Her angels however--those supporting secondary characters--were fully developed, telling individuals, used magnificently by Reed to show us more, tells us more about Joachim and Gia. Seamless.

There is also some world-building, insomuch as Reed has to explain her angels and demons, but it is handled with enough truths from religious history that it doesn't feel like work. Or fantasy. In fact, in an almost bizarre piece of timing, I read this book during Holy week--significant only because the relic required to defeat Satan (in Reed's plot) is the sword used to pierce Christ's side following his crucifixion. So some emotional overlap for me there. Not enough though, to color my view of the book.

Overall, very much like Midnight Rose, this book swept me away.

Although published through Ellora's Cave in 2005, I believe it can still be purchased here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Smooth Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas

Title: Smooth Talking Stranger
Author: Lisa Kleypas

Type: Contemporary Romance
Published: 2009

Blurb: Ella Varner has it all--a successful career as an advice columnist, a handsome boyfriend, and a circle of friends in Austin. When anyone has a problem, Ella knows the answers.

But one night she receives a call that changes everything. And as Ella's world is turned upside-down, she meets a man who is the opposite of everything she ever wanted . . . a man who will offer her the most irresistible challenge she has ever known . .

Why: Kleypas is an auto-read for me.

Uh-oh: Well, I had this vague recollection that I hadn't liked the first two books in this series. So off I went to see what I had posted about them. Found a short, drive-by blurb about Blue-eyed Devil--wherein I expressed my misgivings AND admitted that I had not yet read Sugar Daddy. And never did apparently. No subsequent posts about it and no entry--anywhere--in my books-read-log. Kind of good news. Cuz I really enjoyed Smooth Talking Stranger. And now I don't have to wait another year for more of this family.

Thoughts: Enjoyed this one very much. Kleypas offers a first-person narrative that is both economical and seamless. The pages turn themselves and at no point is the reader bogged down in lengthy, introspective passages or tugged off on distracting tangents. It's clean--for lack of a better word--and well-written. Kleypas' words engage, right from the start.

I'm happy about that, as a reader. I'm not a huge fan of contemporaries, but I think the handful that have appealed to me lately have done so because they featured an author voice that is mature and to-the-point--in a modern, grown-up way. Without that level of intelligence, and some degree of plausibility, I can't enjoy myself.

So here, aside from the caricature evangelicals, Kleypas served up the right voice and believability factor. I was easily drawn into the story, relaxed and open-minded. I moved beyond both--going straight to captivated--when Kleypas introduced Luke and, in just one or two scenes, showed readers how inexplicable the relationship between infant and caregiver can be. She captured those moments beautifully, stunning both the heroine and reader in the space of a few words. Like her treatment of domestic abuse in Blue-eyed Devil, Kleypas offered an intuitive and honest portrayal of what it means to parent an infant.

That portrayal also provided the most telling emotional insights to the heroine. Yes, she narrates the story, but because she is self-trained in the art of holding back, we never get to the raw stuff beneath the facade. We learn why she internalizes but, like her, we accept her patterns as healthy enough. She enjoys men, sex, the responsibility of a job and the ability for unconditional love. Good enough. Another reason, I think, that Kleypas' matter-of-fact voice serves the story so well. BUT, in those private moments between Ella and Luke? Meaty stuff.

So, I liked the heroine as much as she allowed and respected her beyond measure for her love of Luke. But the hero? Adored him, even without his POV. To be honest, I was half in love with Jack because he reminds me of someone I know. Same thing happened to me in Rachel Gibson's Not Another Bad Date last year. Strip life's circumstance from the gentleman I know and he could be either of these heroes. Southern drawl, bone-melting charm and innate protectiveness. Here, it was the perfect counter-part to Kleypas' pent-up-but-not-really-pent-up heroine. They enjoyed a natural attraction and their romance held all of the humor necessary in the modern world--especially about sex. Honest, funny stuff.

On his own, the hero added measurable portions of the maturity and intelligence I cited earlier. He was the calm assurance, everywhere. Very sexy and probably the most desirable aspect of their romance, IMO.

As for secondary characters, I thought the ex-boyfriend and the mother were believable--despite the exaggeration of their faults. Not caricatures exactly, but just a hair over the top. And I'd have to say that both went that way later in the book. In the beginning, both walked and talked for me. It wasn't until later, when neither Ella nor Kleypas had to tolerate them anymore, that they thinned to stereotypes. The sister and her TV evangelists held less of a presence for me--other than to demonstrate (more through memories than actual interaction) the relationship between Ella and Tara. All in all, the supporting cast held up their end without too much distraction. Not a complaint--like I said, Smooth Talking Stranger appealed to me most for its clean, get-to-it voice and manner.

On the Travis side, we get a little time with pretty much all of them. (For me--the most shiny of these are all the scenes with Hardy in them. I liked him--not his book so much, but definitely him.) At the book's end however, it's all Travis family--and it worked well enough. It wasn't a total construct, but it was somewhat of a convenient means for the wrap-up.

Overall, Smooth Talking Stranger was a fast, clean read--with enough depth and charm to warm and please. And yeah, I think I'll go check out Sugar Daddy now.

Testament to Kleypas' reader-base, there is far more Word on the Web that I can accommodate here. A sampling though...

KristieJ, 4 out of 5

Stacy, I like what she has to say about Jack

Christine, A-

Brie, A-

Dear Author, B+

Book Smugglers, 5 out of 10

Lady of the Review, A-

Dear Author, Comfort Read

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Laird Of The Mist by Paula Quinn

Title: Laird Of The Mist
Author: Paula Quinn

Type: Scottish Historical
Published: 2007


Protecting Her Was His Passion
High-born though she is, Kate Campbell isn't afraid to draw her sword. When raiders strike, she rushes into the fray…and is lucky when a mysterious Highlander shields her from a deadly blow. Swept onto his stallion, she soon discovers that her rescuer is her clan's most hated enemy: Callum MacGregor, the man they call The Devil. Yet she can not ignore his achingly tender touch or the way his fiery gaze leaves her breathless…

Possessing Her Would Be His Pleasure
Callum MacGregor has taken many Campbell lives, but he's never saved one—until now. Mesmerized by this spirited lass, he wants her by his side—even if it means holding her ransom. As his fingers graze her sumptuous curves and tangle in her unruly tresses, Callum realizes Kate Campbell is his most dangerous foe of all. For he can't make love to her without betraying his kinsmen and his honor…and surrendering his heart forever.

Why: I'm fairly certain I came by this title via a blogger--it was either a release announcement with blurb or a review. Didn't make note of it though, so I've no one to credit.

Thoughts: Really, really enjoyed it. Mind you, there is absolutely positively nothing new here--it's all been done before. But Quinn's arrangement, characters and voice render it one of the better Scottish "re-makes" I've read yet. A total romp, brimming with Highland charm and brutality.

Quinn's tortured laird is compelling and his captive the perfect mix of feisty and vulnerable. I hung on every word, every look, and every touch exchanged between these two--and fell easily in love right along with them. In short, I was happily romanced in the finest Scottish tradition set by Garwood years ago. I'm pretty sure I sighed in contentment every time the heroine nestled herself into the laird's massive chest, every time she relaxed into the safety and security those arms offered. Funny too were their shared jokes over her propensity to sleep whenever in his arms.

I also enjoyed the hilarity provided by her laird's warriors. They were genuinely funny, proportionately fierce and just as integral to moving the story forward as the H and H. Their growing affection for their captive helped push both her and the laird toward their HEA--providing just the right insight into both at just the right moments. And in the interest of sequel-baiting, Quinn deftly positioned the mightiest of them as the sigh-inducing hero of her next installment. Again, very well done. I already have it on order through my library.

The laird's quirky but damaged sister--and her instant friendship with the enemy captive--also appealed. I thoroughly enjoyed their innocent, adolescent girl-time spent amidst the sister's barnyard pets. Endearing and funny--I swear there was charm at every turn in this book.

A good thing, because that pervasive charm helped offset the brutality and menace provided by the story's villain. True to the setting and time period, Quinn challenged her characters with the basest of cruelties--going so far as to attach nearly as many to her hero (in the form of violent deaths wrought by his hands; he was never a cruel torturer). Thankfully, Quinn balanced or contrasted this darkness perfectly against the good in her characters and the hope of an HEA. I wasn't nearly as squeamish about the events in this book as I was by the witch hunt stuff in Jen Hollings' My Immortal Protector. Perhaps because here I never doubted the laird's power to protect the heroine.

Overall, the perfect romantic escape for the historical Scottish romance lover. Where I thought Garwood may have ruined me for others, Paula Quinn proved otherwise.

Note: Per Quinn's website, this "series" ends with the second book. At present, she is working on a new series featuring the children of these heroes and heroines. Couldn't find any upcoming release dates, so I'm not sure if there is a completed book waiting in the publishing wings anywhere. I'll admit to being a little disappointed. Not that I have any right to be--my TBR list pretty much has me booked until 2011.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Just The Sexiest Man Alive by Julie James

Title: Just The Sexiest Man Alive
Author: Julie James

Type: Contemporary Romance
Published: 2008


Nothing fazes Taylor Donovan. In the courtroom she never lets the opposition see her sweat. In her personal life, she never lets any man rattle her–not even her cheating ex-fiancé. So when she’s assigned to coach People’s “Sexiest Man Alive” for his role in his next big legal thriller, she refuses to fall for the Hollywood heartthrob’s charms. Even if he is the Jason Andrews.

Jason Andrews is used to having women fall at his feet. When Taylor Donovan gives him the cold shoulder, he’s thrown for a loop. She’s unlike any other woman he’s ever met: uninterested in the limelight, seemingly immune to his advances, and shockingly capable of saying no to him. She’s the perfect challenge. And the more she rejects him, the more he begins to realize that she may just be his perfect match. . .

Why: Blogger buzz. Crazy positive blogger buzz, like:

"I loved this book," from Jessica.
"It was outstanding," from Holly.
"Damn delightful," from Carolyn Jean.
"This book was fun from beginning to end," from Dev.
"Extremely funny and romantic," from The Book Smugglers.
"Filled with snappy banter and sexual sparks," from Stacy.

Thoughts: I rarely get in on books when they are all the buzz. I simply add their titles to my TBR list and get to them later. In this case though, I found the book by accident--sooner rather than later. So, so glad I did. It definitely falls in the fucking fabulous category.

Fucking fabulous because James put dialogue at the wheel and left it there to drive the entire story. Without sacrificing character depth or story density. Intelligent and rich--in word and thought. But without pages of backstory or personality defense.

I've grown so weary of books weighted more by their characters' thoughts--about themselves in large part--than by their interactions with others. I read for the interaction--the romance, duh--and have little patience for lengthy passages wherein the author defends their characters' motivation by letting them prattle on, in their own heads, about how they can't allow themselves to love. It's unrealistic and lazy, IMO.

James bucks that trend entirely--giving us two self-assured individuals struggling more against the balances and choices they've set for their lives and the potential upset unexpected love presents. Realistic and tough to pull off without making either appear shallow or selfish. Particularly in their Hollywood setting. But James proves herself a talented character-smith when she allows Taylor and Jason to simply be themselves--flaws and all. And we like them. Unabashedly. Hell, we love them. Easily and without guilt.

Without guilt because both are smart; and both come by their wit naturally and honestly. Their connection--seemingly there before they even meet--is palpable. An understanding recognized between them, held close and privately shared amidst flashbulbs and twittering secretaries. And therein lies the second fucking fabulous. James manages to paint a quiet but searing romance against a busy and loud backdrop. It truly was as if these two shared a private joke from beginning to end--choosing to keep the true depth of their attraction to themselves; understanding somehow that it was not only too special to be true, but too special too risk.

The third fucking fabulous? James' respect for the romance reader. On top of the whole "shared with a glance" romance, she hits our sigh bones with just a few, well-placed and surprisingly poignant "he gets me" moments. Then arouses with only the barest glimpse of his desire to dominate--like in his insistence on always being the one to drive or his expectation that she will take his name. In all of this, James takes us back to the power of suggestion--sexy, emotional stuff. And not a formula or cliche in sight.

Fucking. Fabulous.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

March Reading List - Jennifer B

Five books in March--on par with February. It was an interesting month in reading. Started with a solid bang from Robb's latest and ended (or slid right into April) with the pleasure of a smart, sexy read from a new author. The whole in-between? Dull as dishwater, pretty much.

Promises In Death by J.D. Robb
Solid bang. Didn't mention it in my review, but I agree with many of you--Robb introduced another new character here that I expect--and hope--we'll see more of in the future.

Wicked Ties by Shayla Black (DNF)
Awful enough to warrant its own post.

My Immortal Protector by Jen Holling
Powerful first half, weak ending. Holling's voice though...I'll be back for more.

Never Romance A Rake by Liz Carlyle
Read this out of order it appears. But after ordering the prior release from my library, I opened it and swore I'd read it before. I went back through my log--through three years--and nope, it's not in there. Feels so familiar though. I'll give it one more try before letting it go and moving on. Getting pretty good at that...

Running Hot by Jayne Ann Krentz (DNF)
Took me two weeks to get to the halfway point in this book. It wasn't a bad read at all. It just didn't hold my interest and I finally gave up. Moved on.

Just The Sexiest Man Alive by Julie James
Blogger buzz put this one on my radar (and TBR list) just recently. When I saw it on my library's swap shelf, I grabbed it and ran. Haven't finished it yet, so technically it will be an April read. But...Yay! I'm so enjoying it.

A quick glance at my 2009 reading resolutions:

1) Read almost strictly from my TBR list (not stack, list). Almost Check. The Holling title was an offshoot, so to speak. Every other title here was from my list.

2) Read at least one shiny new release a month. Check. Was first in my library's line for Promises In Death.

3) Catch up--right up--to the new releases in each of my favorite series. Shoot. I need to pay attention to this one. No series reading last month.
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