Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Year of the Category: Major Westhaven's Unwilling Ward

This is my June entry for Kmont's Year of the Category Challenge.

Major Westhaven's Unwilling Ward by Emily Bascom

Lily is horrified to learn her late brother has placed her under the guardianship of brooding Major Daniel Westhaven! He's insufferably rude and arrogant, and clearly disapproves of her—so why does Lily find herself longing for his touch?

Battle-scarred Daniel wants nothing to do with society, and intends to swiftly fulfill his promise and find troublesome Lily a husband. Only, she brings light into his dark life—and his even darker heart. But surely a beauty like Lily would never choose a beast like him…

This Harlequin Historical takes place in Post-Revolutionary War England. Lily's brother died in the war and left her guardianship to his superior officer and good friend Daniel Westhaven. Because Daniel himself is severely injured in the war, he cannot seek guardianship immediately, and Lily becomes destitute over the course of the next year. When they do finally meet, Lily is still so heartbroken when her brother is discussed that she rebuffs all discussion of him, leading Daniel to believe that she is nothing like her wonderful brother, didn't truly care deeply for him, and cares only for dancing and parties. In truth, much to her dismay, she has realized that she must find a husband and puts on a front at all the parties in order to attract a husband she really doesn't want. They obviously get off on the wrong foot, and each resents the other.

Thankfully, this misunderstanding is cleared up fairly quickly, and what we are left with is a simmering attraction to one another that Daniel is unwilling to act upon (with the exception of the few times he acts upon it - oops).

Overall, I found both Daniel and Lily to be likable characters. Daniel was obviously suffering emotionally far more than physically. Although he had come a long way in his recovery from his amputation, he hid it well, and was unwilling to allow Lily to see him as anything less than a "whole" man, which is obviously how he viewed himself. Lily was a strong character who, once she realized she wanted to be with Daniel, went out of her way to show him how great she thought he was.

I would have been happier had this book not contained a silly kidnapping plot. Why must authors persist in adding suspense when a simple (or not so simple) conflict works just as well? A rival for Lily's hand, Denham would have served just as well had he been a nasty rival rather than kidnapping her and forcing Daniel to kill him. Unless it serves to seriously forward the story (and here I don't feel like it did), I really wish that authors would just forego the kidnappings in otherwise non-suspense books. KThx.

Kidnapping aside, the best scenes are the ones where Daniel is forced to confront his own behavior and feelings, either with his longtime butler or with Lily. The scene where he finally reveals his amputation to her with tears in his eyes was very beautifully done.

I liked the author's voice, the characters, and the overall story. I could have done without the villain. I'd definitely read another book by Bascom, assuming it didn't contain another kidnapping plot to muck up the otherwise terrific book.

Book Watch!

Particularly exciting for me because Virtually His was one of only a handful of my WOW reads in 2007. I was floored, if memory serves.

So obviously, I cannot wait for this one:

VIRTUALLY HERS will be coming out as an ebook through Samhain on Oct. 6, 2009. It'll come out as a print book mid 2010.

Note: I was unable to find mention of this title yet at http://www.samhainpublishing.com/. Consequently, I'm not sure if this book cover is THE cover.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Redemption of Micah by Beth Williamson

Beth Williamson is holding a countdown to the release of this book on her blog. And giving away a copy each day. Go on over - good luck!

The Redemption of MicahUp front: one of the things that we frequently do as readers of romance is to suspend disbelief. I found that I needed to do that in order to accept the main premise of this book – that of a woman waking up after 3 years comatose and, though weak and somewhat wasted, still being able to have full use of her muscles. I had to believe she could have gestated and given birth successfully to a healthy baby while comatose. All in the 1800s. I was happy to do so, fully trusting Beth Williamson to take me on an emotional journey with my hero and heroine.

The premise:
While I don’t usually advocate reading series in order (you know I usually don’t care if I do or not), I highly recommend reading The Education of Madeline before this book. Why? Continuity. It gives a feeling for who Eppie is, because I never truly got a sense of that from this book. Granted – it’s one of the reasons I rarely read amnesia books. It’s very difficult to gain an understanding of the character when they, themselves, don’t really know who they are. Here’s what I had to say about Eppie in my review of The Education of Madeline: "Also terrific are the two main secondary characters, Eppie, Madeline's mulatto best friend and housekeeper, and Micah, a Rebel soldier. Eppie has a fantastic mouth on her, and a wonderful sense of humor, and her outrage in certain situations is almost comical. Micah has his own demons to slay."

In writing characters with amnesia, I imagine the hardest thing to do is to keep them true to their real character while still letting them evolve into who they’ve become. Eppie is still outspoken, although understandably more hesitant, but seems to have lost most of that wonderful sense of humor. The humor comes from the characters around her, when they all notice that she’s picked up Micah’s accent (presumably from him reading to her while she was comatose). I think it’s difficult to give that person connections with people from their past – especially if they don’t remember them – ding! Light bulb! That’s the huge challenge here. And, I think, a reason why so many people dislike amnesia stories.

Where Beth Williamson does excel is in writing tortured heroes. And how. Micah is the epitome of the tortured heroes. His love for Eppie is palpable. You can feel him willing her back to life. Yet you can also feel his despair that she will ever come back to him. His strong sense of urgency and the need to bring his daughter up in a loving, nurturing, good environment shine through. And he is a wonderful father.

As always with Williamson, some of the best scenes with Micah are done with his need for alcohol. I’m sure this was a very common theme with Civil War vets, and his revelations later in the book reveal why he was so haunted. But even before he reveals why, the reader understands that he is so unhappy, so tortured by the war, what he has seen and done, that his only refuge is to forget. Yet the alcohol never really offers him the safe haven he seeks. Williamson excels at this. You want to hold these men and make them all better. Stroke their hair and tell them it will be all right. And make it all right for them. She literally puts you in their head. Perfectly.

I thought she did the same with Eppie. I felt Eppie’s confusion and dismay; her suspicion at discovering she had lost 3 years of her life, discovering she had a daughter, her anger at always being coddled yet unsure herself at the next step to take. All extremely well done. Her feelings for herself and inward. There's a great scene where they are in the bank to sign some papers when all of a sudden Eppie realizes that she isn't sure she knows how to sign her name. She's becoming this confident woman and this moment of insecurity brings home to her that she really isn't a whole person yet - still dependent upon others. It was really well done.

The romance:
The only part I felt was lacking in any way was the romance, and I think that Williamson wrote this about as well as it could have been done without writing adding an additional 1-200 pages more. When one is trying to recreate the relationship on a shared past that the other doesn’t remember, it makes for an awkward coming together, and that is how I felt that this romance was. Awkward. They said and did all the right things, but I never truly felt the strong bond and connection that I so wanted to feel. It’s the trope – amnesia storylines simply don’t lend themselves well to strong connections, IMO. Especially with past lovers/family/acquaintances – when the victim doesn’t ever truly remember them.

There are flashes in the book where Eppie remembers feelings and she always feels like her body remembers Micah, which makes her uncomfortable – those were very well done.

They also grow to accept each other in a new light – a must for any relationship to grow and not remain stagnant. When Micah reveals himself and his past to Eppie, she had already admitted to herself that she loved him, but she now needed to fully accept him. On a new level. It brought their relationship completely to a new plane – where it had never been in the past, and with that, Williamson moved them fully forward.

Their family:
They have a daughter. A precocious almost 3 year old. With a very advanced vocabulary, who has incredible insight. One might think this virtually impossible, but having had a child myself who spoke in full paragraphs at 18 months, this was possibly the most believable part of the story to me, LOL. Miracle was adorable, but I did find myself wanting her to throw a tantrum or two, LOL. I liked that Eppie was uncomfortable, unwilling to call herself Mama, and took a long time to feel maternal. It made it feel more real, especially given that Eppie was only 21 herself. I liked the resolution for them.

The suspense:
There’s always an element of suspense in Williamson’s stories, as if the emotion isn’t enough to wring you out. This involved a kidnapping of Miracle – the premise of which was actually believable given the time frame for the story. The resolution of this was sad, but thankfully, quick. And solidified the relationship for Micah and Eppie.

Final thoughts:
So, what I loved was the characters themselves. I thought, unfortunately, that the romance was the weakest part of the book. But I still recommend this book without reservation. Highly emotional (as I knew it would be), and beautifully written. The premise IMO, is what held the romance back, as opposed to the writing, the characters themselves, or the author's voice. Another 1-200 pages, and I think it could have been done.

The next book:
Micah’s sister, Sarah, was introduced at the tail end of the book and in Micah's revelations to Eppie as to why he is so tortured. Just from the small bits we learn about her, she seems like she’ll be a really interesting heroine. I have no idea who she’ll be paired with, but I’m hoping it’s Daniel – the sheriff.

Buy The Redemption of Micah here.
Buy The Education of Madeline here.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Instant Gratification by Jill Shalvis

Instant GratificationCourtesy of JillShalvis.com:

Wishful, California, is 3000 miles from Dr. Emma Sinclair’s last job in a New York City ER. It may as well be another galaxy. Here, running her father’s clinic for a summer, Emma treats bee stings, stomach flu, and the occasional pet cat. Plus, she has to contend with patients like Stone Wilder: gorgeous, laid-back, and irritating beyond belief. The man laughs at her. A lot. And Emma loathes him. All except that tiny part of her that wants to throw him on her examining table and break every doctor-patient rule in the book…

When Stone tries to help Emma learn to loosen up a bit, he pictures white-water rafting or scenic mountain hikes. Not a mind-blowing affair that shakes them both to the core. Emma’s sure she has no place in a town like Wishful, but Stone knows different. Emma belongs here, in this town, in his life. And convincing this strong-minded, stubborn, sexy woman of that fact will be a challenge no Wilder man could resist…


Jill Shalvis had me at hello with this book. The opening scene is so good that you can't help but read on. It's funny as hell, it's witty, it's charismatic, there's sexual tension, there's sibling camaraderie and teasing (and how!) - all of my favorite things. By the end of that first scene, you know that Stone and Emma have this bantery, high-schooly, "I don't like you" (but I really like you) relationship going. And that Stone is deathly afraid of needles, LOL. An ongoing gag throughout.

Soon thereafter, they are together again, helping another character give birth. I have to quote. Shalvis writes the best out there. Humor mixed with the true emotion underlying,. Gets right to the heart of the character underneath. Jen always likes to talk about the adolescent humor brought out by Brockmann, Janzen and others. IMO, Shalvis is right up there with them.

(all quotes © Jill Shalvis)

"Guys." This was from Emma. "Come here."

TJ swiveled his head toward Stone in sharp panic. "She can’t make me."

Emma pulled on a pair of medical gloves. "I’m going to need one of you to strap on your big boy pants and man up. I need another set of hands."

One minute Stone was standing there thinking ‘fuck no’, and in the next, TJ ever so helpfully gave him a shove towards her.

Emma looked up and locked gazes with him, nodding her thanks.

Ah, hell. He wouldn’t have walked away from a stranger in need, and he wouldn’t walk away from this. Funny how he’d always thought he’d done it all in his thirty-two years, but as it turned out he hadn’t, and though he knew next to nothing about birthing a baby, he knew two things. One, it was going to be damned messy, and two, intimate.<>Right here. All you have to do is push and it’ll be over and you’ll be able to hold your baby."

"My baby," Lilah repeated weakly, sweat running down her temples.

"That’s right," Emma said firmly, hair falling loose, her clothes smeared with blood and her own sweat, kneeling on the blanket out in the wilderness that Stone knew she wasn’t too fond of.
It was fascinating to him. She was fascinating to him, and elegant and sophisticated, and so not the priss he’d thought. Not anywhere close.

"Your baby," Emma reminded Lilah. "There’s a big prize at the end of this hell, and it’s your beautiful baby. Now let’s do this."

Stone watched amazed as Lilah let out a breath, stopped crying and nodded. "Okay," she said. "Let’s do this."

It boggled Stone’s mind. Emma hadn’t coddled. It certainly wasn’t in her nature to be particularly sweet or gentle in her firm determination either, but she was undoubtedly extremely, undeniably kind as she bull-dogged through and got her way.

Right then and there, Stone felt a little catch in his gut. Not a crush, not exactly, but something that might be worse.

Far worse. Well this is going to be damned inconvenient.

Oh, Jesus. He saw blood and gore, and female parts stretched to limits that boggled his mind and made him want to beg for forgiveness for his entire race.

The screaming echoed in his head, which suddenly felt detached from his body, and if he’d been standing, he’d be flat on his ass by now, but he had Lilah squeezing the holy hell out of him, keeping him conscious--
"I’ve got her!" Emma said in triumph. She came up on her knees, cradling her bundle in a towel, vigorously drying the baby and suctioning the nose and mouth at the same time. She expertly swapped out the wet towel for a dry one as the baby began to wail. "A gorgeous baby girl," she declared, and set her on Lilah’s belly.
The baby squawked and let out a gusty cry.

Stone stared down at the sticky, gooped up baby in shocked awe.

A living, breathing person.

Emma was evaluating the baby for color, respirations, muscle movement, anything unusual as she clamped the umbilical cord, and then turned her attention to the placenta, while Stone’s head just spun.

It was truly the most amazing thing he’d ever seen, and he lifted his gaze to Emma and found her already looking at him, her eyes suspiciously bright and misty.

And then she did something totally unexpected. She smiled at him.

Yeah, she was tough as nails and cynical and blunt. And sometimes just a little mean.

And she cried over a newborn.

I just love, number one – the description of Stone’s reaction to Lilah giving birth. Made me laugh my ass off, as one who’s been there. But the emotion afterward. The way she's written it, with the paragraph breaks. The independent thoughts, one after the other. So perfect. You can just feel him falling for her. Right then. You know he’s a goner.

Jill Shalvis is a go-to author for me. She always delivers smart, sexy contemporaries with humor, sensitive but strong heroes and heroines and a delightful afternoon of reading. I never close a Shalvis book disappointed.

Instant Gratification is book 2 in a 3-part series about the Wilder brothers.
Instant Attraction
Instant Gratification
Instant Temptation (2010)

Friday, June 05, 2009

May Reading List - Jennifer B

I did read books in May, LOL.

And I did not lose my reviewing mojo, laughing some more.

I was just too damned busy to pen and post my reviews. Or chat the books up via comments, chat or email.

Parenting, the day job--coordinator of all things great and small. Doing my damnedest to live in every cherished moment. That's me (and you, right?). Perhaps we all need that second, smaller persona like Carolyn Jean, LOL. Miniature subversions of ourselves that encapsulate our womanly and reader selves--in all their deviant beauty. Ok, cracking (only) myself up now, so I'll move on.

Let's see, a total of seven books (plus two DNFs) for May. Look at me go.

One Deadly Sin by Annie Solomon
Surprisingly good characterization here. A surprise to me only because I hadn't read Solomon before now. Although Blackout has been on my TBR list for years, this was my first Solomon title. An impulse buy and worthy of the money spent. Between pace and character depth, this one kept me turning pages. The heroine stands out (in memory now) as unique, well-drawn, captivating. Not like anyone I've ever known but, through Solomon's words, I came to know her. Really well done. The hero essentially filled his role, but leaned a bit to the oblivious side, IMO. I thought he should have been sharper, smarter than he was. And I think Solomon meant for him to be; he had a few glinty moments, but she just never got back to filling him in. Know what I mean?

The Waterfall by Carla Neggers
One Deadly Sin put me in the mood for contemporary / suspense, so I plucked The Waterfall from my TBR stack. Neggers is a sure thing for me and this selection was fairly good. The romance--secondary to the suspense--was assumed for the most part. That was the only thing I didn't like--it budded somewhere in their prior history, but Neggers failed to share enough of that with the reader to make it convincing. Her setting, cast and plot made up for it though.

It Must Be Love by Rachel Gibson
Still in the mood for contemporary, I pulled this from my TBR stack next. Perfect Rachel Gibson fare. I enjoyed every single word. Although not as overt, Gibson provides the same male appreciation for all things feminine that Janzen does (in her Steele Street series). I love that. Seriously, what could be better than a hero who covets every inch of you, inside and out? Probably the reason I love John Mayer's "Your Body Is A Wonderland" so much. That's a damned sexy song.

Beat Of Temptation by Nalini Singh
Another chapter in Singh's Psy-Changeling series, from an anthology titled An Enchanted Season. Singh's alpha, alpha, alpha heroes continue to seduce. No question. They fit a mold, yes. But, unlike Ward's vamps or Lora Leigh's assorted dominants, Singh's Changelings have not grown tiresome or graduated to overbearing. Nor has the fated mate thing. How does she do it? I'm not entirely sure, but I can point to at least one thing--the inherent gentleness she gives every one of them. For me, nothing seduces more than Singh's perfect balance of possess and cherish.

Stroke Of Enticement by Nalini Singh
This Psy-Changeling installment appeared in The Magical Christmas Cat anthology. And like every other installment in this unique and fabulous series, it succeeded. I dug it. AND, can now say I'm all caught up. On this series at least.

Halfway To The Grave by Jeaniene Frost
This one has been on my TBR list for quite a long time. Blogger buzz put it there and I just knew it would be another gem in my reading experience. Unfortunately, it ended up a slow read for me. Solid, but not the impact I expected. Couple of reasons I think. First, it felt too young for me. I'm in no way looking for older characters as I age myself. But, I may be partial to characters with a bit more post-teen years experiences. Frost's heroine had depth and well-earned grit, don't get me wrong. But I kept seeing the girl more often than the woman. Second, I worried (initially) that her hero would not get the girl in this installment. I wondered at his role, his intentions and that distracted me. Still, I finished it (in weeks, not days) and ordered the second book from my library. It's here now and I guess the true test will be whether I pick it up or not.

Vision In White by Nora Roberts
Good. Solid Nora Roberts contemporary. Another beta hero that endears. With, of course, that primitive side that sucker-punches the closet BDSM's in us, LOL. Just the romance here--nothing else to distract. Well, almost nothing. That whole wedding planner setting thing had its own ego. Not as overwhelming as that gardening tutorial couple years back, but big enough to be called its own character. A pretty interesting (photography stuff was cool) and only mildly offensive character (its offensiveness rated only by your particular feelings about this industry). I'll keep reading this quartet.

Swing by Opal Carew (DNF)
KarenS recommended this one eons ago; she said it was solid erotic romance without the need for a shower afterwards (or something along those lines). And yeah, the sexcrobatics were stimulating (like Karen said, in a clean way, LOL). But the story? Weak. Too weak for me to continue. I tried for two months to finish it and just couldn't do it. (I need to post on this elsewhere--on the overall failure--for me--of erotic romance.)

The Pursuit by Karen Robards (DNF)
Shake your heads in disbelief folks, this one was a DNF for me after getting more than two thirds of the way in. It wasn't awful. It was just stiff. Plenty of action, not so much character. This far into the book and I didn't know or care about either the hero or the heroine. So, in a rare moment of clarity, I picked the book up, realized it was doing pretty much nothing for me and put it in my bag to return the library. My inner anal self could never have done that one or two years ago. Especially after having read so far into it. And still not knowing the whodunit. But now? I just couldn't be bothered. I get that way about painting my toenails sometimes.

2009 Reading Resolutions...update:

1) Read almost strictly from my TBR list (not stack, list). Read from both here--the list and the stack.

2) Read at least one shiny new release a month. Check. (Nora's Vision In White)

3) Catch up--right up--to the new releases in each of my favorite series. Well, I succeeded in catching completely up with Singh's Psy-Changeling series. However, I still couldn't get into Snyder's Fire Study. Nor did I manage to read the second in Raybourn's series. Went to the trouble of ordering it through my library, then renewing it and STILL ended up returning it unread. Another I-never-do-that moment for me. Ah well.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

A totally spoliery discussion on A Hint of Wicked

If you haven't read A Hint of Wicked, star this post in your reader and come back after you've read it. I really want to know what you thought.

This post will be full of spoilers, and I expect the comments to be as well. It was torture writing my review of this book without giving away the farm, and I imagine others had the same problem. So I thought that I'd write up what I really thought about the characters, where their strengths and weaknesses were, how I thought it could have worked out differently, and why I thought I knew the outcome. And let me hear your thoughts on it, too. Please!!!

OK, here goes.

The choice:
How did I have a feeling that Tristan would be Sophie's choice? Well, throughout the book, Sophie continually thought about how much she missed Tristan. When they were in a room together, the sparks flew. They couldn't keep their hands off one another. They literally pined for one another. When Sophie was back with Garrett, the only real reference to sex after their first love scene was that she was in his bed every night. The relationship she had with Garrett was that of a child and young adult - of shared childhoods and coming of age. Her relationship with Tristan, while they shared a childhood as well, was an adult one, and I think that also made a huge difference. Who did you think/hope she'd choose and why?

I thought that Haymore waited too long to let us see into Garrett. He was too antagonistic for too long IMO to be the true hero for Sophie. We heard via Fisk what happened to him, but he was still so mean and angry. It wasn't until far later that there was any hint of any wrongdoing and that there might be something else going on other than Garrett's anger. Locking them in their rooms and restricting their movements also didn't endear him to me (or to Sophie, I imagine). That, I think, may have served to prejudice many readers against a Sophie/Garrett pairing. What say you?

OTOH, some may have viewed Tristan as too good to be true. I didn't, simply because of his alpha tendencies and stubbornness - he was determined to go forward with challenging the original marriage even while Sophie was trying to make up her own mind. Otherwise, he really was too good to be true.

The villain:
I thought that this was too much for the intimacy of the story. I think that it could have been done in a subtler way and still have worked very well. But as I said in my review of the book, I think that it began to feel too cliched for such an original story. How about you?

The sex:
Great. What else is there to say? OK, there is more. The opening scene? Having Garrett pull Tristan off of Sophie just as he's about to come, while she's naked and tied up? Wow. And having all the servants see it? Double wow. I love their (Sophie/Tristan) sexual relationship. It felt real to me. I think that Haymore couldn't really give us too much more of Sophie and Garrett in bed without spoiling a Sophie/Tristan ending. How about you?

The end:
Well, it was certainly different not to have Fisk all wrapped up and Rebecca ruined, but saved. And the teaser for A Touch of Scandal? Having Fisk's sister be Garrett's heroine? Wow. I never would have seen that coming.

What did you think about Sophie's choice? Happy about it? Were you sure she's make that choice? I was pretty sure about it, given the clues I mentioned above, but there was always a shadow of a doubt.

OK - your turn. Spill your thoughts. Please. I'm dying to have a real conversation about this book!

*NB: Every time I write "Sophie's choice", I picture Meryl Streep. Just wrong for this book, LOL!

A Hint of Wicked by Jennifer Haymore


Sophie, the Duchess of Calton, has finally moved on. After seven years mourning the loss of her husband, Garrett, at Waterloo, she has married his best friend and heir, Tristan. Sophie gives herself to him body and soul…until the day Garrett returns from the Continent, demanding his title, his lands—and his wife.


Now Sophie must choose between her first love and her new love, knowing that no matter what, her choice will destroy one of the men she adores. Will it be Garrett, her childhood sweetheart, whose loss nearly destroyed her once already? Or will it be Tristan, beloved friend turned lover, who supported her through the last, dark years and introduced her to a passion she had never known? As her two husbands battle for her heart, Sophie finds herself immersed in a dangerous game—where the stakes are not only love…but life and death.

I posted about how much I loved this book over at Let's Gab. And yes indeedy, I surely did. Many have said that The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie is their favorite book of the year, and I would argue that this book is better - for me anyway. I think it's tighter and more gripping. Normally, love triangles aren't really my thing. I like to see a book evolve and grow around the hero and heroine's love for one another. Here, we have Sophie, Tristan, and Garrett, all of whom already share a love together. Combine that with Tristan and Garrett being best friends, cousins, and Tristan being Garrett's heir, and it's even more intimate.

This book has been reviewed to death, so I'll just get straight to what I liked and what I didn't.

First, I really liked that Haymore was willing, in a "traditional" regency, to venture into the forbidden. Sophie loves these two men if not equally, then both very strongly, and has sex with them both willingly. Not at the same time, and she is not switching from one to the other on a nightly basis - I need to make that point... Anyway, I also liked that she fantasized about having them both together - very graphically, I might add - and realized that it was her fantasy, that it could never come to fruition, given both the personalities of the men and her position in life as a duchess.

I liked Garrett's flashbacks at first - felt they were likely appropriate for a man who battled and was injured at Waterloo. Haymore didn't shy away from the stress and PTSD that men suffer after such a horrific battle (Vietnam anyone?). I liked that as the flashbacks and hallucinations became more vivid, intense, and frequent, both Sophie and Tristan refused to believe that they were caused by madness. That endeared Tristan to me in a way that I wouldn't have felt had he used it to win Sophie away from Garrett. Tristan truly loved Garrett, and when push came to shove, although he was angry and hurt, Garrett also truly loved Tristan.

I liked that Sophie acknowledged her growth and the difference in her relationships with the two men, while noting the strengths in each of them as well. She didn't waffle between them because she was indecisive or tentative; she truly loved both men. And while she knew that she wanted them both, she also knew that she would have to choose. She didn't want to hurt anyone, and truly didn't know with whom she would stay.

I liked Haymore's writing voice. The prose was appropriate for the time period, and the sex scenes were graphic but not vulgar. Characterization was spot on, although I felt it was strongest for Garrett when we learned of him through Sophie and Tristan's memories, simply because he was so caught up in either anger or hallucination for much of the book that we really don't get a real glimpse of the person he has become over the last 8 years except in small bits and pieces. There are some sections where he ruminates in some confusion on how his life was the last several years compared to how he thinks he is expected to behave. These gave me tremendous insight into the man that Garrett likely was, and the man that he had become. I think otherwise, there would be no question for readers as to whom they want Sophie to end up with, nor would there be for Sophie either.

What I didn't like as much was the emphasis placed on the villain and the set-up for the ending of the book. Although I realize now that it sets up the next book (the "loser's" story), I felt that it took a bit away from the focus on the intensity of the relationships at hand. Perhaps Haymore was after a little relief from that intensity, but the emotionality of the book was broken for me in those few moments. They seemed too cliched for what is otherwise a unique, gripping, emotional, intense love story.

The end... I thought I could guess who Sophie would choose, but I was always left feeling some doubt. What if she didn't choose who I thought she should end up with? In the end, she did choose the man I wanted, but I was, indeed, left with a feeling of sadness and loss for the one left out, and praying that in the next book that they can all reconcile and become the best of friends once more. (They reconciled one on one, but not all together, and I felt that loss keenly.)

Needless to say, I'm looking forward to A Touch of Scandal - the next book from Haymore, and the story of the man not chosen. It's not due out until early 2010. For those feeling withdrawal, Haymore also writes as Dawn Halliday, and has 2 Highlander books book due out - one in August and an anthology coming out in November.

Buy A Hint of Wicked here. Read about Dawn Halliday's upcoming books here.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Hot in Here by Sophie Renwick

She wasn't his dish-until someone turned up the heat.

Celebrity chef and infamous ladies man Bryce Ryder can't believe the thoughts he's having about his old friend Jenna McCabe. She's always been the shy girl-next-door, but when some bad publicity threatens everything he's built, Jenna gets down to business-and shows a side of herself that is take-charge and totally irresistible.

Soon things are heating up in and out of the kitchen-and all of Jenna's secret fantasies about Bryce start coming true. But will she be the one to tame his heart, or is the sexy chef just indulging another one of his cravings?

This contemporary by Sophie Renwick (aka historical author Charlotte Featherstone) was really enjoyable. It's a friends to lovers story - one of my favorite themes. Jenna and Bryce have been best friends for 10 years. She's a PR/marketing wizard and he's a renowned chef. Jenna's been in love with Bryce for years. Via dialogue and Jenna's inner thoughts, we get the impression that Bryce is a man-slut. In a dinner meeting together designed to come up with a strategy to clean up Bryce's image, all of a sudden he notices Jenna in a completely different light. The rest of the book is their love story. Their very hot love story.

I liked a lot of things about this book. First, Jenna is portrayed as a "regular" woman. Not skinny, but not fat. She has a few rolls that she'd rather not have (don't we all?). Bryce, when seeing her in this new light, only sees how wonderful it is that she loves and enjoys the meals and treats that he cooks for her. A man after my own heart :) Jenna's weight was not an issue in this book. I forget who blogged about this (was it Wendy?), but she wanted to see a regular woman (ok, she said plus size, but still) where that wasn't the source of the conflict. This is it.

There was plenty of hot, creative, inventive sex in this book - much of it revolving around food. I do have to admit to it feeding some fantasies, LOL. But I never truly felt like the sex was gratuitous. It felt as if it forwarded the relationship.

I liked Bryce a bit better than Jenna only in that once he recognized his feelings, he went with them whole hog. Jenna, afraid to believe that Bryce would commit, seemed to commit and then backed away at the slightest misunderstanding. And that was where I felt the book had its biggest flaw.

The first big misunderstanding, the misunderstood email, was handled well. Jenna made Bryce work at winning her back. My heart broke for them both as they struggled to find a way back together. However, once that was resolved, there were more misunderstandings, and each time, Jenna was filled with mistrust for the man who had been her best friend for years and years. I felt like #1 - there were too many misunderstandings, and #2 - Bryce should have gotten pissed off at Jenna for not trusting in him, rather than begging her to take him back each time.

There was also a secondary storyline between Jenna's sister and Bryce's brother (they all grew up together).

I did want to throw it against the wall at the end with all the misunderstandings. Lots of people have posted about the "Misunderstanding", and it's the one area that I think many authors could improve. Please do not overdo the misunderstanding. Once it's resolved, don't continually wring pages out of your book by throwing in more misunderstandings. This book would have been better served, IMO, by having Sophie and Bryce work together to save her parents farm at the end than to have more misunderstandings and mistrust between the two of them. I felt enough was enough. /rant

It sounds as if I didn't like thebook, when in fact, I really enjoyed most of it. It's the last 30 or 40 pages that are frought with misunderstanding could have been better done, but the rest of it was very well written, and the love story, particularly their interlude in Italy, was beautifully told.

I would recommend this book, as long as you are forewarned that the end is not quite as tightly written and well done as the rest. However, hot sex, hot hero, big love, and great food. Yup. Me like.

Oh, and Sophie Renwick also has a Highlander holiday anthology coming out with Cindy Miles and Dawn Halliday in November. Yum. I love Cindy Miles' highlanders, and I've read one book by Dawn Halliday and really enjoyed it, so I'm looking forward to that!

Year of the Category: His Substitute Bride by Elizabeth Lane

Annie never stopped loving Quint Seavers—not even after he fathered her sister Hannah’s child. Now Hannah is married to Quint’s brother Judd, and their little girl Clara is six years old. When Quint invites Annie to bring Clara to San Francisco for a visit, she jumps at the chance. Maybe after this trip she’ll be able to put Quint behind her and accept the wealthy man who wants her as his wife.

Quint always thought of Annie as Hannah’s kid sister. Now Annie has grown into a beautiful, spirited, woman—a woman made for his arms and his bed. But when danger demands the ultimate sacrifice, will their newfound love survive?

This book is the follow-up to The Borrowed Bride, which I positively loved. This is the story of the brother who lost out on the bride - Quint, and the sister of the bride, Annie.

It's set in 1906 San Fransisco right at the time of the earthquake. Annie brings her niece to San Francisco to visit her 'uncle' (really, Quint is the little girl's father - read The Borrowed Bride for details). Annie has been in love with Quint forever, and he always thought of her as his girlfriend's little sister. Well lo and behold, Annie is all grown up and Quint is taken aback by his feelings for her.

Parts of this book were really well done. I did like the romance between Annie and Quint. I would have liked it if the book had concentrated on that. Instead, we are treated to a suspense plot in which the little girl is kidnapped, and Annie and Quint fall in love while searching for her. He's a pretty selfish guy - out for the story. Even as the earthquake has hit, and Annie is trying to get herself and Quint's daughter out of San Francisco, he stays behind rather than get them out safely because it's his job to report on the earthquake. Right after they make love for the first time, he taking her virginity, he gets up and goes off. Quint was fairly immature and self-centered. In fact, even as they are marrying, Annie ruminates, "Marriage to Quint wouldn't be easy. Annie had come to accept that." Not something I'd want to be thinking on my wedding day.

So, while I did like portions of this Harlequin Historical, it was nowhere near as good or as emotionally deep and satisfying as its predecessor.
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