Sunday, December 30, 2007

Betrayal in Death

Author: J.D. Robb
Published: March 1, 2001 (Berkley)
Category: Romantic Suspense
Series: In Death #12
Rating: 10/10

A very satisfying entry into the Eve/Roarke series. Yet again, the crimes are taking place because of Roarke, which isn't new to Eve, but it's so prominent and even in their own home this time.

The crime spree starts off with a random victim: a maid doing turn-down service at Roarke's most sumptuous NYC hotel. Each crime gets closer and closer, until Summerset is attacked, but with his wily past, is able to escape the hitman. The layers behind the hitman are extremely well done, and I didn't expect it. I don't want to give anything away here, so read it.

I really loved this one, and it stands out to me.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Confessions at Midnight

Author: Jacquie D'Alessandro
Published: December 26, 2007 (Avon)
Category: Regency Romance
Series: Mayhem in Mayfair #2
Rating: 8/10

I was anxiously awaiting the release of this book because I loved Sleepless at Midnight so much. It wasn't a traditional regency romance, as the heroine was sleeping around with the hero without much hope for marriage, but they loved each other. Confessions follows in that same style.
Carolyn Turner, Viscountess Wingate, is absolutely shocked by the Ladies Literary Society of London's latest selection. Memoirs of a Mistress is scandalously explicit and downright wicked... and it's stirring feelings within Carolyn that she hasn't felt... well, ever! She's sure that this steamy read is the only reason she's succumbing to the charms of notorious rogue Daniel Sutton, Lord Surbrooke. She couldn't possibly be falling for the rascal and his illicit caresses... or could she? The last thing Daniel wanted was to be shackled by marriage vows. He lusted after Carolyn, sure, but he never imagined that once he lured her to his bed he'd never want to let her go. Yet only when a murderer targets his beloved will he be spurred to confess his true love... and claim Carolyn as his bride.
I was a little disappointed by this entry into the series. Carolyn is devoted to the memory of her late husband and feels guilty about her feelings for Daniel. Daniel has loved Carolyn ever since he met her on the night her engagement was announced. After all these years loving her from afar, it takes a remarkable amount of time for them to admit their love for each other. It's one of those miscommunication things: She thinks she might love him too, but what's the point? He says he never wants to marry. He thinks she can't stop thinking about her dead husband, so what's the point of revealing his true feelings?

I was amused by Daniel's jealousy and Matthew's (hero of Sleepless) teasing him about it. The rich American upstart, Jennings, who was also in the previous book, is interested in Carolyn, going so far as to kiss her. However, Jennings is observant enough to realize that his pursuit of the lovely widow is useless because she cares for Daniel, and Daniel is constantly glaring daggers at him for even talking to her. I hope that Jennings will have a nice story in this series. He has a refreshing view (for a rich man), that as an American with lots of money, he's not interested in pedigrees and titles like the British are, so he's free to marry a woman who actually interests him (hence his interest in Sarah in the last book).

The next book in this series is scheduled for January 2009 release. Sigh. That's a really long time.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Penelope and Prince Charming

Author: Jennifer Ashley
Published: April 2006 (Leisure)
Category: Historical Romance
Series: Nvengaria Trilogy #1
Rating: 7/10

I read The Mad, Bad Duke, the sequel to this book a while ago and really enjoyed reading about the Nvengarians and their magical culture, so I wanted to catch up with the series by going back.
His blue eyes beguiled. His muscular form could have satisfied any fantasy. He had a delicious foreign accent - and to top it off, he was royalty! What woman would dare refuse the most sought-after lover in Europe? Miss Twice-a-Jilt Penelope Trask, that's who. And, unfortunately for Damien, marrying Penelope was the only way to inherit his kingdom. Good thing this enchantingly infuriating woman didn't seem completely immune to his many charms. The passionate way she returned his kisses told Damien he wasn't the only one head over heels. But wooing was difficult amid assassination attempts, wild magic, and desire so strong it threatened to overwhelm him every time they touched. Why had no one mentioned the road to happily-ever-after was so difficult?
I didn't really like Damien as a romantic hero. It really felt like it was more about lust and the prophecy driving him than real love. And I didn't like his bossiness, and that's a lot of bossy, coming from someone who likes alpha male characters.

In terms of the trilogy, Penelope and Prince Charming did a nice a job setting up the world and political intrigue. We also see the growing relationship of Michael Tavistock and Simone Trask, single parents of Megan and Penelope, respectively. It's a very minor side story, but still very sweet, and it had rough patches, despite little spotlight.

I find that Jennifer Ashley's romances aren't fluffy and usually have some grittiness to them. Before Penelope and Damien get their happy ending, they race to Nvengaria, hoping to reach it by Midsummer's Day, and there's nothing easy about their journey. Limited fluffiness aside, there is a LOT of steam to this book. I still prefer The Mad, Bad Duke though.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Judgment in Death

Author: J.D. Robb
Published: September 1, 2000 (Berkley)
Category: Romantic Suspense
Series: In Death #11
Rating: 8/10

I usually go with a 9/10 rating for Roberts' In Death books, but something about the story irritated me. Maybe it was all the cops thinking that Eve was so horrible for cleaning up a corrupt precinct. Basically, an undercover cop gets killed at a club called Purgatory. At first it seems like he was a dirty cop who was punished by some vigilante, but the corruption goes deep into the 128th precinct and cutting through the muck is harder than expected because the Internal Affairs Bureau is involved.

Most amusing Eve-Roarke thing in the book? Don Webster of IAB and former romantic interest of Eve lets his lingering feelings show, and Roarke doesn't take kindly to this puppy drooling on his territory. Fight! Fight! Fight!

Eh, not one of my favorite Eve books, but still entertaining.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Minx

Author: Julia Quinn
Published: September 1996 (Avon)
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 6/10

Here's the dud for the Splendid and Dancing at Midnight trilogy. Dunford was a great and funny supporting character in those books and he did deserve his own book, especially after Belle bet him a thousand pounds that within a year, he'd be married and blissfully happy with it. At least it wasn't a spectacular, go-down-in-flames kind of dud.
Henrietta Barrett has never followed the dictates of society. She manages her elderly guardian's remote Cornwall estate, wears breeches instead of frocks, and answers to the unlikely name of Henry. But when her guardian passes away, her beloved home falls into the hands of a distant cousin.

William Dunford, London's most elusive bachelor, is stunned to learn that he's inherited property, a title... and a ward bent on making his first visit his last. Henry is determined to continue running Stannage Park without help from the handsome new lord, but Dunford is just as sure he can change things... starting with his wild young ward. But turning Henry into a lady makes her not only the darling of the ton, but an irresistible attraction to the man who thought he could never be tempted.
I was so disappointed because Splendid and Dancing at Midnight were so wonderful. I think it's because I didn't like Henry very much. Well, I tend to dislike female characters who want to go by male names, because it makes for very odd love scenes.

I hated their post-marriage conflict, where Henry believes some woman who was angry she didn't get Dunford, saying that Dunford is keeping a mistress despite his declarations of love and devotion. For such an outspoken young lady, Henry was remarkably dim. Yes, she saw Dunford visit his mistress (he was ending the relationship), but she didn't bother confronting him about it. This was the girl who had no problem duping him into the perception that Stannage Park was a poor farm where he, as baron, would have to muck out stalls, chase after pigs, and eat nothing but porridge and mutton.

And then she makes him believe that she married him just so she wouldn't have to leave Stannage Park and she lied about loving him. I didn't think Dunford would be that dim either, to be such a poor judge of character that he believed everything was faked.

Disappointing, but thankfully, Quinn has so many other books to read.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Blood Brothers

Author: Nora Roberts
Published: November 27, 2007 (Jove)
Category: Paranormal Romance
Series: The Sign of Seven Trilogy #1
Rating: 10/10

I have to wait until May 2008 to read the next in the trilogy?

Excellent spooky elements. Fewer things horrify me more than the idea of a monster on the other side of my non-ground floor window in the middle of the night. I imagine Blood Brothers is a combination of Stephen King and Nora Roberts. Don't take my word for it though, as I've tried to like King, but can't because I don't want to read about the character's alcoholism when all I want is a good scary story (not that alcoholism isn't scary).

Basically, three boys accidentally release a demon on their birthday, and every seven years, for seven days in July, their town goes crazy, with people hurting each other and having no memory of it when the week is over. The boys, now men, try to help as much as possible during every occurrence. Each of the three has special psychic powers (i.e. seeing into the past, the future, etc.) and have remarkable healing powers.

This first entry into the Sign of Seven Trilogy focuses on Caleb and Quinn, the partner fate has handed him. Quinn is doing research on the town of Hawkins Hollow and the odd events that occur every seven years, and contacts Caleb a town leader and descendant of the town founders. While she's investigating, Caleb takes her into the haunted woods where lots of creepy things happen, and she's also stalked by the demon as well.

As the book progresses, the other members of their group convene. Fox, who still lives in Hawkins Hollow, and Gage, playboy/gambler, and Layla and Cybil, two more women who will pair up with the Fox and Gage by the end of the trilogy. I didn't enjoy Roberts' Circle Trilogy, where all six characters were introduced in the same book, but the book's featured couple was lost in the mix. I was afraid this new trilogy would suffer the same fate, but I can happily say that Blood Brothers balances the scary with the developing romance and the large cast of supporting characters.

The most disappointing thing is the six months' wait until the second book, The Hollow. If I'd bothered to check into this, I would've tried slowing down my reading!

Monday, December 10, 2007

An Offer from a Gentleman

Author: Julia Quinn
Published: July 2001 (Avon)
Category: Historical Romance
Series: Bridgerton Family #3
Rating: 5/10

I can definitely say this is my least favorite Julia Quinn, and rather oddly, most reviews rave about this installment in the Bridgerton series. My problem is not with the writing, but with the story.

Sophie Beckett is the illegitimate child of the Earl of Penwood. He takes her in out of guilt (not love) and raises her as his ward, despite all the servants knowing that she's his by-blow. When he marries, the story takes a turn towards the Cinderellan. His new countess is insulted by Sophie's presence and coldly tells the little girl that her two daughters (from her previous marriage) will be the daughters of the house and that Sophie is not to speak with any of them socially. Of course, the earl dies and his will forces the wicked stepmother to keep Sophie or her income will be made much smaller. She keeps Sophie in her house, but as a slave, performing the duties of three servants and not earning a wage, and also hides the fact that the earl left Sophie a dowry.

Benedict meets Sophie at the Bridgerton masquerade, which Sophie sneaks into with the help of her fellow servants. She and Benedict meet, but she never tells him her name and she leaves at midnight. It would've been better if she'd told him her name, but the book would've been too short that way. So we deal with the frustration of seeing Sophie kicked out of her house when her stepmother finds out what happened.

Several years later, Benedict happens to be attending a house party of one of his less-respectable friends, and saves Sophie, a servant in that household, from being gang raped. He takes her back to London and finds a place for her in his mother's household. All the time, Sophie is sad that Benedict didn't recognize her (she lost weight since hitting hard times and sold her long hair to a wigmaker) and Benedict realized he had feelings for Sophie, but was still hung up on that woman from the masquerade ball.

I was so fed up with Sophie's "woe is me, he doesn't remember me," when Benedict has never stopped thinking about her since that ball. And then Benedict is stupid enough to proposition Sophie, to set her up as his mistress. Ugh, there really was a severe lack of romance in this book. I kept waiting for Sophie to tell the truth about whose daughter she truly was, so Benedict could get over his "I can't marry a servant," even though his mother was so lovely, saying she would support his decision no matter what.

Definitely a dud. I'm glad I got this one from Paperbackswap rather than buying a new one like I've been doing for most of my Julia Quinns.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Witness in Death

Author: J.D. Robb
Published: March 1, 2000 (Berkley)
Category: Romantic Suspense
Series: In Death #10
Rating: 9/10
I find it so hard to write much about Nora Roberts' Eve Dallas books because there are so many, and not much changes between the books, as timeline-wise, they're all very close together.

This one was a little special to me because the crime takes place onstage while Eve and Roarke are attending the performance. A lot of the investigation goes on backstage, which amused me so much because I used to stage manage when I was in high school.

And the crime? It was a little creepy how a stage knife was swapped for a real, but then all sorts of questions come up. Was it the actress wielding the weapon? Or did someone else switch the knife to let her take the blame? It's hard to narrow down a suspect when everyone hated the victim.

I haven't gotten tired of Eve and Roarke yet, as I love following characters as their relationship grows. As there's no real end in sight to the series, I guess it could get boring and repetitive, but I've not reached that point after ten books. Watching Peabody and McNab "date" is hilarious though and it's even more amusing watching Eve deal with it (entails the equivalent of her holding her hands over her ears and screaming LALALALALALALA).

Good fun read, satisfying my cravings for Eve and Roarke as always.

Friday, December 07, 2007

An Enchanted Season

Authors: Maggie Shayne, Erin McCarthy, Nalini Singh, and Jean Johnson
Published: October 2, 2007
Category: Paranormal Romance
Rating: 8/10

The cover says that this is a holiday collection, but I didn't get much of a holiday feel from the stories as I read them. The season was more of a passing background detail and I wouldn't have missed it.

Melting Frosty by Maggie Shayne
This is one of those romances where a lot of cliches are thrown in. Complete strangers who are totally opposite of each other are stuck in a remote location due to the weather. A Serendipity-like coincidence shows that the two were meant to be together. I didn't really feel the romance, as the characters slept together because there was nothing else to do in the middle of a snowstorm, and the fact that she had his father's long-lost hat meant that they were supposed to be together.

Charlotte's Web by Erin McCarthy
This story was pretty amusing. Charlotte and Will love each other, but they don't know the other's feelings. Charlotte's two younger sisters convince her to give in to her witchy heritage and construct a lust spell for Will. The younger sisters can see Charlotte's and Will's feelings plainly even though the two are so oblivious to it and tell Charlotte this. She goes along with the plan but tells the truth to Will, only to find that her sisters are right about his feelings. This one was sweet despite the steaminess, and comes in second to Beat of Temptation.

Beat of Temptation by Nalini Singh
This was my favorite of all the stories. In Singh's Psy/Changeling series, Tamsyn and Nate are already mates and have a family. Beat of Temptation is the story of their tumultuous courtship. Tammy and Nate are both members of the DarkRiver leopards, and have been lucky enough to find each other as mates. However, when the mating bond appeared, Tammy was only fifteen, and Nate waited for her to grow up. After several years of distancing himself from her, he's used to ignoring the bond, and tells Tammy that she needs to experience life for herself before they become mates. However, Tammy has loved Nate for so long that she doesn't need to go anywhere else to be truly happy. All the relationships in the series so far have been psy-changeling, so this story really gives you insight into the mating bond between two changelings. The fact that it was Christmas during the story didn't affect the plot. It could've been any time of year and the story would've been fine.

Gifts of the Magi by Jean Johnson
I was a little confused by this one. An engaged couple run an inn that has run into some financial trouble. A few men trying to make trouble for them are stuck in the inn as well, when three odd travelers show up needing rooms. During their stay, the couple's financial troubles are solved and they make friends with the jerks who were threatening them at the beginning of the events. It was weird and I wasn't really interested in this assortment of characters. Miracles seemed to happen with these three travelers, and the characters were puzzled, but didn't think anything of it. To be honest, I was really bored, and it wasn't much of a romance and not sure if it really counted as a paranormal either.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Splendid

Author: Julia Quinn
Published: May 1995 (Avon)
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 10/10

Splendid is the book that comes before Dancing at Midnight, which I picked up at the library and loved. Of course I had to run out and buy the aptly-named other half of the duology, and this may be my favorite Quinn yet! Alex and Emma were so much fun to read, what with Alex's belief that all women are after his fortune and title, and Emma's desire to go back to America and run her father's shipping company.

There are two things everyone knows about Alexander Ridgely. One, he's the Duke of Ashbourne. And two, he has no plans to marry anytime soon...

That is until a redheaded American throws herself in front of a carriage to save his young nephew's life. She's everything Alex never thought a woman could be - smart and funny, principled and brae. But she's a servant, completely unsuitable for a highborn duke - unless, perhaps, she's not quite what she seems...

American heiress Emma Dunster might be surrounded by Englishmen, but that doesn't mean she intends to marry one - even if she has agreed to participate in one London Season. When she slipped out of her cousins' home, dressed as a kitchen maid, all she wanted was one last taste of anonymity before her debut. She never dreamed she'd find herself in the arms of a dangerously handsome duke... or that he'd be quite so upset when he discovered her true identity. But true love tends to blossom just when one least expects it, and passion can melt even the most stubborn of hearts.

I often complain about how the hero and heroine should be truthful with one another, but in most romances, there's something they keep hidden from each other (i.e. the fact they actually love the other person or are that same person they met several years ago in a masquerade). I understand why it happens so much, as there wouldn't be much conflict to write about and be entertained by, but I feel like the conflict and ignorance of the characters crosses my imaginary "level of tolerable annoyance" boundary. Splendid manages to have this conflict and entertain me, but resolve the conflict before I get annoyed.

For example, Emma's cousin, Ned, loses at cards to a cheater, and she would help him pay the debt, but can't touch her funds until she's married or reaches a certain age. She proposes to Alex, who was planning to propose to her by the end of the week, and he's so happy and they make plans. Then he asks her what made her propose, and she says, "I needed money...", triggering his distaste of marriage, as he believed that women were interested only in money and titles. At this point, the usual romance novel would drag this out until almost the end of the book, but Alex realizes his mistake the next day after waking up with a horrid hangover.

The resolution of that conflict didn't end the book, as Quinn found more than enough to keep the book going, with Emma saving Belle from the scumbag who cheated Ned at cards. Of course, Alex had to save Emma and Belle, as her rescue didn't go quite to plan, and after being wounded, he told Emma that he would lock her up.

I couldn't get enough of this book. In fact, I think I have to read Dancing at Midnight again because Emma and Alex play such large supporting roles. Time to buy more books that don't fit in my bookcase!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dancing at Midnight

Author: Julia Quinn
Published: December 1995 (Avon)
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 9/10

I was at a standstill with Julia Quinn because I was waiting for my next Bridgerton book to arrive in the mail. I happened to be in the library and this was the only Quinn they had on the shelf, so it was meant to be. Apparently, Dancing at Midnight is the middle of a trilogy, between Splendid and Minx, and before Quinn wrote the Bridgerton series.

When a suitor tells Arabella he's willing to overlook her appalling bluestocking tendencies on account of her looks and fortune, she decides to take a break from the Marriage Mart. During an extended stay in the country, she never expects to meet Lord John Blackwood, a wounded war hero who intrigues her like no other man.

Lord John has lived through the worst horrors of war... but nothing could have been as terrifying to his tormented herat as Lady Arabella. She is intoxicating, infuriating... and she makes him want to live again. Suddenly he's writing bad poetry and climbing trees in the pitch-dark night... just so he can dance with her as the clock strikes midnight. And even though he knows he can never be the sort of man she deserves, he can't help wanting her. But when the harsh light of day replaces the magic of midnight, can this tormented soul learn to love again?

Belle is the heroine who plans on marrying for love, and nothing less. Even luckier for her, her parents support her decision and have let her turn down several offers. She visits her newly married cousin, Emma, the Duchess of Ashbourne, and while out reading, she accidentally trespasses on their new neighbor's land.

Lord John Black Blackwood was made a baron after his heroic acts in the war, and invested his money wisely over the past few years, coming out plump enough in the pocket to buy his own estate. Unfortunately, the estate had an awful name: Bletchford Manor. He carries a lot of guilt from when one of his men raped a young girl, and has nightmares about it, thinking that he may as well have been the rapist. When he meets Belle, his heart is lighter than it's ever been since that horrible night. She's smart, witty, beautiful, and bright in spirit. They flirt and Belle begins to believe that John's the one for her, but then he pushes her away because he's afraid of hurting her like he did that little Spanish girl he let down.

Belle fights back, going home to London and having Emma help her pass on the fake news that she's about to be engaged. John realizes that maybe he isn't the best man for Belle, but he will do his best for her. What if she married some nobleman who made her stop reading, or one who mistreated her physically? So he storms off to London to confront her, and she's actually honest about her plot to get him to chase after her, and they begin their real courtship, complete with poetry. That was one of the funniest parts of the book. Emma, thinking that John has a poetic soul, insists that he write her a poem, but he keeps plagiarizing and reciting other poets' work instead. She always catches him, and I crack up.

They do marry quickly, and Belle helps him get past his guilt. Besides trying to rename Bletchford Manor, which Belle kept mistaking for Blumley Manor, Brimstone Park ("At least Brimstone Park had some character to it. And 'bletch' rhymes with 'retch,' which conjures up images even more unfortunate than hellfire."), etc., someone from John's past is threatening their new life.

This was a fantastic, fun read, and included a lot of face time for Emma and Alex, who were so lovely that I had to run out and buy Splendid.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Pirate Next Door

Author: Jennifer Ashley
Published: September 2003 (Leisure Books)
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 8/10

Yikes, yet another cringe-worthy cover, but I braved the subway reading by hiding the cover against my bag as usual. I've enjoyed Jennifer Ashley's writing, particularly The Mad, Bad Duke, and I'm looking forward to her upcoming books in her Calling series next year.
What was a proper English lady to do when a pirate moved next door? Add the newly titled viscount to her list of possible suitors? Take his wildly eccentric young daughter under her wing? Let the outlandish rogue kiss her with wild abandon? As everyday etiquette offered no guidance, Alexandra Alastair simply set aside her tea, peeled off her gloves, and followed her instincts - whether that involved rescuing her new neighbor from hanging, fending off pirate hunters, plotting against aristocratic spies, or succumbing to a little passionate plundering. Forget propriety! No challenge was too great and no pleasure too wicked, for Grayson Finley promised the adventure of a lifetime.
The hero and heroine are so amusing; I loved the way Grayson reviewed Alexandra's list of potential husbands with its symbols (a minus meaning a deficiency in character and a plus meaning a merit).
"Why does St. Clair have so many?"
"Well he is a duke."
"Well, I am a viscount. Excellent." He gave himself a cross. "What else?"
"He is a family friend-"
"I live next door." Another cross to Lord Stoke.
"I have known him a long while, and he has proved his kindness many times."
Grayson contained the snarl that built inside him and continued to make crosses by his own name until he came to the edge of the paper. "I seem to have many merits," he said."
Sadly, despite him being the clear winner (in his mind) on the list of suitors, Grayson says he cannot marry Alexandra. It turns out he made a deal with a pirate villain to ensure his daughter's safe crossing to England, her life for his. Despite that, he is protective of Alexandra and rescues her when she's kidnapped by enemy pirates, and they begin a steamy affair. Once she becomes Grayson's woman, his enemies use that against him.

A lot of swashbuckling action, more than I actually expected, and I will read more of Ashley's pirate books.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Gift

Author: Nora Roberts
Published: October 2007 (Silhouette)
Category: Romance
Rating: 6/10

Apparently, all of these stories were previously published, but as I became a Nora Roberts fan relatively recently, that didn't matter to me.

Home for Christmas is about Jason, a journalist who left his tiny hometown to find adventure and success. Ten years later, he returns to claim Faith, the woman he left behind, only to find that she's been divorced and had a baby. This was my favorite of the three stories in the book, and the coziest. It also deals the best with its shortness.

All I Want for Christmas is the cutesy made-for-TV-movie story, with twin elementary school boys trying to find a new mom for their family. Their mother callously abandoned them to their father when they were babies, and he's been doing the best he can to raise them ever since. Nell and Mac, the couple for this story, were kind of blah to me. I'm normally amused by couples who bicker, but they're fighting being together and suddenly they're together. Maybe it would've worked better if the story was longer.

Gabriel's Angel was by far the most dated and my least favorite of the three. Gabriel, an artist trying to find his muse, is holed up in a remote mountain cabin. As a blizzard descends on the area, Laura, a very pregnant woman, crashes her car close by and Gabe takes her in. She's got lots of secrets about her past; she's hiding from her deceased husband's controlling, blue-blooded, entitled family. They want the baby because it belongs with them, not some model who captured the passing fancy of their sleazebag of a son. Of course, they never saw him as a sleazebag, despite his cheating on Laura two days into their marriage and dying in a drunken car accident with his latest mistress. How is this most obviously dated? Gabe smokes cigarettes rather frequently around Laura when pregnant and around the baby later on. Laura does not utter a peep about this.

Both Gabe and Laura have sadness in their pasts, but their hasty marriage has them tiptoeing around each other. They married because they do care about each other, and they want to protect Laura and the baby from his grasping grandparents. But the dancing back and forth with "I want you but I don't want to hurt you or make you think about your crappy dead husband" and the "I want you but I'm afraid of being hurt again or being under the thumb of another rich and powerful family" was so boring. For once, I wished one of these anthology stories was shorter. Give the extra pages to Home for Christmas!

Definitely not my favorite Nora Roberts or Christmas anthology.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Carolina Moon

Author: Nora Roberts
Published: April 1, 2001 (Jove)
Category: Romance
Rating: 8/10

Time for my dose of Nora Roberts. I have to space my favorite authors (who have backlists) apart so I don't get tired of them. It appears I'll have to do the same with Julia Quinn. While Carolina Moon has a heroine with a dark and twisted past, like so many of Roberts' heroines, this one is psychic.
Tory Bodeen grew up in a small, rundown house where her father ruled with an iron fist and a leather belt - and where her dreams and talents had no room to flourish. But she had Hope - who lived in the big house, just a short skip away, and whose friendship allowed Tory to be something she wasn't allowed to be at home: a child.

After young Hope's brutal murder, unsolved to this day, Tory's life began to fall apart. And now, as she returns to the tiny town of Progress, South Carolina, with plans to settle in and open a stylish home-design shop, she is determined to find a measure of peace and free herself from the haunting visions of that terrible night. As she forges a new bond with Cade Lavelle - Hope's older brother and the heir to the Lavelle fortune - she isn't sure whether the tragic loss they share will unite them or drive them apart. But she is willing to open her heart, just a little, and try.

But living so close to unhappy memories will be more difficult and frightening than she ever expected. Because the killer of Hope is nearby as well.
Tory is a real psychic, the kind that can tell you where you left something several years ago. She had the bad luck of growing up under the heavy hand of an ultra-religious father though, who tried to beat the evil out of his witch of a daughter. Roberts can really write herself a tormented heroine. Cade, for a hero, was okay. Nothing really wowed me about him.

Goodness, I wanted something really bad to happen to Cade's mother. She was one of those cold society women who cared more about how she and her family looked than that family's actual wellbeing. Of course, she frowned on Cade's growing relationship with Tory, the woman she blamed for Hope's death. But she was so cold about it, trying to pay off Tory to stop seeing Cade. Then she tried to get around Cade by taking control of the family's properties, and thereby kicking Tory out of the house she was renting. She said such horrible things, and then she leaves the story, no poetic justice served for her, and that was my biggest problem with Carolina Moon. I know, not a real problem.

I felt like this book was 1/3 romance and 2/3 mystery, maybe even more towards mystery. Roberts did a good job of keeping the identity of the murderer in the air. It could've been any of the guys in town.

Definitely an entertaining read, and good for someone who doesn't want to read a saccharine-sweet love story.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Duke and I

Author: Julia Quinn
Published: January 2000 (Avon)
Category: Historical Romance
Series: Bridgerton Family #1
Rating: 9/10

After reading my first Julia Quinn (The Viscount Who Loved Me), I decided I had to read about the rest of the Bridgertons and start with the book I inadvertently skipped. Daphne's story is the first of the series and I thought it was so much fun to read.

Simon is one of the most interesting heroes I've read about in a long time. His mother died giving birth to him, the long-awaited heir to the Duke of Hastings, so he grew up with his father's great expectations. When it turned out that the little boy had a stammer, his father rejected him, saying horrible things about how he'd produced an idiot and how Hastings is better off in the hands of the cousins who were next in line to inherit. Simon spent the better part of his life trying to prove his father wrong, and trained himself to get over the stammer, which would only come out when he was under a lot of stress. And then when he appeared constantly calm and spoke so sparingly, people made him up to be arrogant and exclusive about his friendship, and therefore more important and more desirable as a potential husband.
Simon Basset, the irresistible Duke of Hastings, has hatched a plan to keep himself free from the town's marriage-minded society mothers. He pretends to be engaged to the lovely Daphne Bridgerton. After all, it isn't as if the brooding rogue has any real plans to marry— though there is something about the alluring Miss Bridgerton that sets Simon's heart beating a bit faster. And as for Daphne, surely the clever debutante will attract some very worthy suitors now that is seems a duke has declared her desirable. But as Daphne waltzes across ballroom after ballroom with Simon, she soon forgets that their courtship is a complete sham. And now she has to do the impossible and keep herself from losing her heart and soul completely to the handsome hell-raiser who has sworn off marriage forever!

I really liked the way Quinn doesn't end the book with the couple getting married. The question a lot of people ask at the end of romantic movies and a lot of romances is: "What happens after the wedding? What's their life like? Does Prince Charming take the trash out?" As with any marriage, there are adjustments, compromises, and obstacles to overcome. For example, Daphne decides not to sleep with Simon after she figures out how he's denying her a child, and he gets upset and drunk and purposely sounds pathetic outside her door so she'll let him in. Hilarious!

I could not put this book down because of the fantastic characters and dialogue! Daphne and Simon's conversations were so entertaining, the kind that leave the corners of your mouth tilted up slightly as you read. I found Simon's lifelong quest to overcome his stuttering absolutely touching. When he got upset with Daphne for defying his wish to never have children, his stuttering came and I felt so bad for him (yes, I know he's not real).

Now I'm in some sort of Julia Quinn frenzy and am buying them or borrowing whatever's available at the library.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Irresistible

Author: Mary Balogh
Published: October 2, 2007 (Berkley)
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 6/10

This was my first Mary Balogh. I've heard nice things about her and I remember she gave a nice blurb for Lauren Willig's Secret History of the Pink Carnation, one of my favorite random discoveries. I found that the writing was nice, but the story was a problem, and the blame falls mostly on the bullheadedness of the heroine. Yes, I like historical romances with a sassy, forward-thinking heroine, but this was ridiculous. Sophie wasn't really forward-thinking. She just liked being on her own.

Sophia Armitage was a friend, indeed. She had agreed to help Sir Nathaniel Gascoigne find a husband for his cousin Lavinia in the glittering city of London— only half hoping that she'd find one for herself. Sophia knew the odds were against her. Men simply did not seem to be attracted to her— not that way. Even her late husband had treated Sophia more as a companion than a lover. But then something shocking happened in London— Sophia found herself in the arms of Nathaniel himself! Not only did this act of indiscretion threaten their lifelong friendship, it revealed a depth of passion that defied everything Sophia believed about herself...
Sophie really annoyed me. Yes, it's nice to be an independent woman (cue: Destiny's Child), but she was independent to a point of being beyond stubborn. For a woman who's known for being practical and reliable, she didn't really think. She was being blackmailed by an army acquaintance, Boris Pinter, with her dead husband's love letters, and apparently this could've resulted in ruination for her and her family. Her niece wouldn't make a good marriage and her brother's flourishing business would suffer. The contents of the love letters weren't revealed until the very end, but the scandalous secret was pretty obvious, given that Sophie's husband didn't really care for her in that way. If he'd had a mistress on the side, it wouldn't have been such a big deal, as that frequently happened back then. Instead of discussing her problem with her supportive family, which has offered financial assistance time and time again, she decided to pawn her things and keep paying off Pinter. So stubborn.

And when Pinter demanded that she introduce him to Nathan's cousin, she turns to do so, but Nathan does not approve of such an acquaintance (Pinter was an awful man in the army, whipping soldiers under his command for his own pleasure) and gives Pinter the cut direct. Then Sophie goes off and gets angry at Nathan when she really didn't have the right to. And when Pinter demands that Sophie cut herself off from Nathan and his comrades, her dearest friends from her days following the drum, she does so and is absolutely horrible to them. Half the time, I didn't think she deserved such devoted friends.

And then after Pinter is taken care of, and all the letters are destroyed, Sophie turns down Nathan and runs off to the country! WTF??? It wasn't even one of those melodramatic twists that I enjoy; I wanted to shake Sophie and tell her she didn't deserve Nathan.

The more entertaining romance of the book is between Nat's ward/cousin, Lavinia, and his friend Eden. I wish they'd gotten a whole book to themselves. Actually, I liked everyone but Sophie and the villain.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Cotillion

Author: Georgette Heyer
Published: 1st print: 1953; Reissue: October 2007 (Sourcebooks)
Cateogry: Historical Romance
Rating: 9/10

Cotillion is definitely my favorite Heyer. Kitty Charing, ward to Mr. Penicuik, is the potential heir to his vast fortune, as long as she marries one of his grand-nephews. Dolph, the earl, would be a good step up in the world, except he's really stupid, in an adorably funny way. Then there's Hugh, the rector, who proposes out of pity and always tells Kitty that she shouldn't speak in the manner she always does (rather forthright and not so ladylike). They all figure that Kitty's hung up on Jack, the handsome rake of the nephews. Freddy, the pink among pinks, shows up last and agrees to Kitty's plan, pretending to be betrothed so she can visit London. Otherwise, her cheap uncle would never allow her to leave. However, once she gets to London, Dolph and Jack compete for her hand as well, as Jack and Dolph's mother do not believe the betrothal is genuine.

Dolph's mother, who treats him like a puppet, wants Kitty's fortune to replenish the family coffers. Dolph wants to marry a tradesman's daughter who takes care of him in a non-manipulative way. Jack always took Kitty for granted, thinking that he would marry her someday when he wanted to claim his innocent country bride and inherit his uncle's fortune. He is that slimy jerk who happens to be charming and good looking, kind of like a politician.

This was a book driven by its characters. I can't tell you much about the settings and those sorts of background details, as the characters' interactions and dialogue were what made this book. Kitty, being a country-raised innocent, offers her help to Dolph despite the social consequences that may result. At the same time, she makes friends with a Miss Broughty, who happens to be gorgeous, but has a horrible mother who's auctioning her daughter off to the highest bidder, and the offer doesn't have to be one of marriage. The friendship with Miss Broughty is completely inappropriate, but Kitty is too kind and naive to say no, and offers her help, despite Freddy's advice. In the end, it is Freddy who saves the day in both of Kitty's projects.

Kitty and Freddy's romance is one where she realizes that the storybook romantic hero isn't such a great idea. He'll look and talk like Jack, and slay dragons, and ride a white charger, but that's not really practical in her time and society. Instead, having a man like Freddy with unparalleled social graces and a generous heart is far more useful in the ton.

There were some unlikely instances of impropriety. Kitty frequently went off alone with her male cousins, and spoke behind closed doors with them. In most romances, the characters make a point of leaving the door ajar for propriety's sake. Kitty goes to London with Freddy, without the company of a maid because her adopted uncle/Freddy's actual uncle is too cheap to pay for one. I guess he didn't think about Kitty's reputation in this case because she was supposedly engaged to Freddy. There wasn't any impropriety in that smutty sort of way though.

All in all, this rather long historical romance was surprisingly entertaining. You'd think a bunch of characters gossiping about what the other characters might be doing would be tiresome after a while, but I couldn't get enough of it. Just think - back then, that's all they had to entertain themselves. There wasn't any TV to watch; instead, friends called on friends and they gossiped over tea. I think we need to do that more often nowadays.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Dangers of Deceiving a Viscount

Author: Julia London
Published: October 2007 (Pocket Books)
Category: Historical Romance
Series: Desperate Debutantes #3
Rating: 6/10

I was so excited to read this book, after how much I enjoyed the first two in the trilogy, but sadly, I was rather disappointed. It wasn't so much the writing, which is of the highest quality, but the story and characters annoyed me to the point of dislike and made me wish to get to the end as soon as possible. Perhaps I am right in my theory that every trilogy contains a dud. As this is another review that I'm doing three weeks after reading the book, the things that stick out in my mind are those that annoyed me. I will keep it short and take advantage of the blurb.

Lady Phoebe Fairchild is well aware that the ton would be appalled to learn of a young lady of quality involved in a trade. Therefore, she resorts to selling her beautiful handmade gowns under a fictitious name: Madame Dupree. So when circumstances force her to visit the estate of William Darby, the Viscount of Summerfield, to design ball gowns for his sisters, she assumes Madame's identity. Phoebe's discomfort in her new position as hired help is nothing compared to her visceral attraction to the viscount himself. Heathenishly handsome and shamelessly seductive, Will invites her to be his mistress -- and Phoebe is shockingly tempted to accept. But as their desire for each other grows and the risk of exposure becomes even greater, Phoebe is in dire danger of losing her reputation, her livelihood -- and her chance of becoming the bride of the man whose passion has claimed her forever.

Basically, William is lusting after Phoebe, but he knows he shouldn't indulge in a fling with the hired help. If they were found out, he'd lose the tenuous control he's got on his wild siblings. But he falls anyway, and is torn between the woman he loves and the need to marry well. I just didn't like him as a romantic hero. His siblings are horrible little monsters as well. Who'd think that most of them are of marrying age? They hit each other and tattle like little children and I wanted to drown all of them.

Phoebe stews in her "Woe is me, I have been forced to come here and therefore can not show any backbone whatsoever!" For a woman raised in the ton, she couldn't stand up to the scheming seamstress she sold her gowns through. The seamstress confronts Phoebe with her theory that Madame Dupree is a front for Phoebe, and Pheobe can't deny it. She caves should've used her lofty family status to turn her nose up and say that Mme Dupree would no longer supply gowns to such an awful, ungrateful, and greedy woman. But she caves under the seamstress's blackmail threat of exposure in exchange for completing the commission (of which I'm not sure Phoebe was seeing a cent! It was never discussed). I understand why she did it; she didn't want to bring scandal upon her brothers-in-law, who were trying to push through bills in Parliament that protected the working woman. In hindsight, it could've been turned to their advantage, saying that she has firsthand experience of the conditions a working woman is subjected to when she has no rights. But yes, she would've lost respectability and been unmarriageable.

Fine, but then that horrible seamstress shows up at William's estate to deliver her bill in person and check up on Phoebe, and coerce her into taking on more work than the original agreement. Pheobe caves yet again and I wanted to smack some backbone into her. True, she wants to stay longer to be with William, but there was no poetic justice for her sewing pimp. And of course, her staying longer results in her being outed and William doesn't want anything to do with a liar.

And their reunion? It kinda sucks. She finally sees him in London at a ball, and when their eyes meet, he gets all cold and turns away from her. Later, he says that he was taken up with emotion at seeing her again, but CLEARLY that's not what his facial expression says. Of course she accepts him anyway and they do it on her sister's sitting room couch.

Ugh! I was so disappointed with the story!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Holy Smokes

Author: Katie MacAlister
Published: November 6, 2007 (Signet)
Category: Paranormal Romance
Series: Aisling Grey #4
Rating: 8/10

So finally, I get to find out what happened after Light My Fire! That one ended with Aisling becoming proscribed as a prince of Abaddon and being kicked out of the Guild because they don't allow proscribed people in, seeing as they're supposedly evil and all. And the thing that ticked me off the most? She was Fiat Blu's mate and Drake couldn't do anything about it, and it's not even an interesting romantic triangle. Fiat did it for political reasons.... and he's a jerk!

I’m Aisling Grey—but you can call me "frustrated."

The man of my dreams—uber-sexy Drake Vireo, wyvern of the green dragons—has finally decided to make an honest woman of me. That is, if we ever make it to the wedding at the same time! Being left at the altar may have cooled my jets, but not my passion...a good thing when Drake disappears and it's up to me to find him.

Most brides just have in-laws to worry about. Me? I have warring dragons, ticked-off demon lords, eternal damnation, and a mage who wants to challenge me for an otherworldly position I don’t even want. Good thing I have Jim, my doggie-demon at my side. He’s never let me down—yet…

Don't be misled by the cover blurb. Drake isn't missing for long. He's just missing for the first of their several attempts to marry (much to Aisling's mother's consternation), and then goes missing again later, but Aisling finds him. The story gets a little confusing with all the attempts to get hitched. For example, Aisling gets pulled into Abaddon, and gets stuck there, but she gets out in this odd and confusing manner. Essentially, she winds up in a house in some random place in London. Maybe it was a back door to Abaddon? She's all concerned with not using the dark power that speaks to her in order to transport herself out, but then suddenly, she's in a house and walking out. I think I have to go back and read that part again to see if it makes any more sense to me.

But no matter, Drake and Aisling finally have their HEA. It only took four books to get there, and Chuan Ren, the only female wyvern, and Fiat Blu gets her comeuppance. Aisling has Drake making PDAs and actually saying the "L word" to her, Nora comes back despite the whole proscription thing, and the church Drake and Aisling were going to FINALLY be married in blows up. Pretty much everything gets resolved, like the proscription issue. There are still little things to handle, such as the return of the black dragons, but that's what the next book is for.

Jim was hilarious as usual. At one point, he gets killed (it was bound to happen with his hanging out with Aisling), but you know that he's not really dead; his form was destroyed. But Aisling summons him for help before he's ready, and he comes back as this little yappy dog. No worries though, Jim returns to fabulous Newfie form before the end of the book.

MacAlister is starting another series about the silver dragon sept, so maybe Gabriel, the only other wyvern I like, will find happiness despite the curse on his sept (something about no mates). The first book, Playing with Fire, is due out in May 2008.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Not Quite a Gentleman

Author: Jacquie D'Alessandro
Published: September 2005 (Avon)
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 9/10

This is Nathan Oliver's story and the book that came before Never a Lady, which tells his older brother's story. Not Quite a Gentleman has all the things that I love in a historical romance. There's the sassy and smart heroine and the hero who's being driven insane by the things she says and the way he wants her. They wind up engaging in a rather unrealistic affair, being that she's not married and doesn't intend to marry Nathan.

Three years ago, Lady Victoria Wexhall was humiliated when Nathan Oliver waltzed brazenly out of her life after favoring her with one glorious kiss... her very first! Now, when her father insists she pay a visit to Nathan's family estate in Cornwall, the pampered Society beauty devises a plan to drive the heartless rake mad with desire, then drop him cold. Because the man is a cad - and he will rue the day he trifled with her affections!

But Victoria's plan isn't the only plot that's afoot. Nathan's sworn duty to the Crown has immersed him in a perilous intrigue, and he is certain this infuriatingly tempting lady is somehow involved. Using his winning charm and sensuous allure, Nathan intends to discover the lady's secrets.

And the dashing rogue is bound and determined to prove that, while not quite a gentleman, he is every inch a lover!

Nathan and Victoria's relationship is all about opening up to each other. She shows him that she's actually smart and more than a hothouse flower who'll wilt at the slightest challenge. In fact, with the guidance of a notorious book called A Ladies' Guide to the Pursuit of Personal Happiness and Intimate Fulfillment, full of information normally unavailable to women of the time. Victoria is most interested in the section about tormenting men, specifically dumping them, as she wants revenge on Nathan for kissing her silly and disappearing from her life right after. She intends to kiss him silly and leave him just as he had done to her. However, she doesn't take into account her reaction to his kisses, and her plan flies out the window.

Nathan reveals his past to her with refreshing openness and honesty. He tells her about how he used to be a spy but his last mission went wrong, and his own brother and father thought he was a traitor to the country. With Victoria's reappearance into his life, he has a chance to redeem himself and recover the missing jewels that caused his downfall. While searching the estate for the jewels, they shared stories of their childhood that would normally shock polite company. Things like making mud pies or stealing the stablemaster's clothes while he takes his weekly bath in the lake.

Jacquie D'Alessandro really knows how to write romances that are funny, witty, sweet, and steamy all in a perfect little package. Animals often make humorous appearances in her books, and those are always bonus points to me. Nathan, the gentleman doctor, is often paid in animals for his services, and when he goes back to his father's estate to clear his name, he brings his menagerie with him. It includes a cow, pig, goat, several forms of fowl, a kitten, and a dog the size of a small bear, charmingly called "BC," which is short for Boot Chewer.

This was such a lovely book and had so many funny moments, many of which are from characters' inner monologues. Great fun. I've already ordered Love and the Single Heiress, which involves the source of that infamous ladies' guide that Victoria read so ferociously.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Viscount Who Loved Me

Author: Julia Quinn
Published: December 2000 (Avon)
Category: Historical Romance
Series: Bridgerton Family #2
Rating: 8/10

As romance sections in bookstores shrink, there's less and less to choose from. I'll go to the store looking for a particular popular author, but find that she doesn't have anything on the shelf. I did notice that there were a large amount of Julia Quinn books still available, so there must be something special about her if BN is still keeping her in stock.
By this time the gossip columnists have it wrong. Anthony Bridgerton hasn't just decided to marry - he's even chosen a wife! The only obstacle is his intended's older sister, Kate Sheffield - the most meddlesome woman ever to grace a London ballroom. The spirited schemer is driving Anthony mad with her determination to stop the betrothal, but when he closes his eyes at night, Kate is the woman haunting his increasingly erotic dreams.

Contrary to popular belief, Kate is quite sure that reformed rakes do not make the best husbands - and Anthony Bridgerton is the most wicked rogue of them all. Kate is determined to protect her sister - but she fears her own heart is vulnerable. And when Anthony's lips touch hers, she's suddenly afraid she might not be able to resist the reprehensible rake herself.
I love romances where the hero and heroine can't stand each other. It makes for much more entertaining dialogue. However, the characters almost made me doubt finishing the book. Anthony annoyed me a lot in the first third of the book, but the rest of the characters were entertaining, so there wasn't any real risk of DNF. He was so jerky towards Kate, who was just trying to protect her sister. He automatically assumed that she was being jealous and spiteful, even setting up her dog to knock Edwina into the Serpentine.

Kate Sheffield was my kind of heroine. She had a backbone and a heart, but wasn't perfect either. The way she valued her family, despite Edwina being a half-sister, made her even more suitable to join the raucous Bridgerton clan. Well, that and her croquet skills.

I had a good time reading this book, and it was oftentimes funny with the occasional heartbreaking moments. I was annoyed, yet again, at Anthony for thinking that he'd die in a few years because his father died young of a bee sting. But I've decided I like Quinn and her Bridgertons; as the Bridgerton series tells the story of each sibling, I must be on my way to find the rest of them, starting with the first book in the series, The Duke and I, which tells Daphne's story. I'm very interested in that because Daphne and her husband, the Duke of Hastings, were such a cute couple in the croquet game that I have to read their story next!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

High Noon

Author: Nora Roberts
Published: July 10, 2007 (Putnam)
Category: Romantic Suspense
Rating: 9/10

Why has this book been sitting in my TBR for so long?? (Answer: Because my TBR is so huge that I don't bother listing it in the sidebar, just the immediate future's reads.)

There's a consequence to reading an excellent NR novel though. I go into some kind of slump where I search for another book that will make me feel the same way, but don't want to break my "don't read from the same author twice in a row" rule. I think I broke that rule when I started reading her J.D. Robb books though. That's okay because those books are like crack. Anyways, it's rather hard to start reading another book after having such a spectacularly good time reading a book like High Noon.

Police Lieutenant Phoebe MacNamara found her calling at an early age when an unstable man broke into her family's home, trapping and terrorizing them for hours. Now she's Savannah's top hostage negotiator, defusing powderkeg situations with a talent for knowing when to give in-and when to jump in and take action. It's satisfying work-and sometimes those skills come in handy at home dealing with her agoraphobic mother, still traumatized by the break-in after all these years, and her precocious seven-year-old, Carly.

It's exactly that heady combination of steely courage and sensitivity that first attracts Duncan Swift to Phoebe. After observing her coax one of his employees down from a roof ledge, he is committed to keeping this intriguing, take-charge woman in his life. She's used to working solo, but Phoebe's discovering that no amount of negotiation can keep Duncan at arm's length.

And when she's grabbed by a man who throws a hood over her head and brutally assaults her-in her own precinct house-Phoebe can't help but be deeply shaken. Then threatening messages show up on her doorstep, and she's not just alarmed but frustrated. How do you go face-to-face with an opponent who refuses to look you in the eye?

Now, with Duncan backing her up every step of the way, she must establish contact with the faceless tormentor who is determined to make her a hostage to fear . . . before she becomes the final showdown.

Duncan, like many of Roberts' heroes, is a protective man, but he's not an in-your-face alpha hero. Even though he wants Phoebe to stay safe, he doesn't do anything outrageous. He says that he'll take care of the man who's harassing her if she doesn't catch him in a week, giving her time to do things her way.

The romance didn't matter as much as the mystery did, as Phoebe's work as a negotiator was so interesting. Roberts really outdid herself with the identity of the villain in this one, as it was easy to blame the woman-hating cop who attacked Phoebe in her station, but it would've been too easy. The real villain was much scarier, and just a little insane.

I couldn't put this book down and had to force myself to slow down. This is a great strong female character book, done so well, without being "I am ultra woman, hear me roar!" Phoebe has weaknesses too, and watching her deal with hiding it from her family reminds me a lot of Eve Dallas. How does Roberts do it?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Kiss the Cook

Author: Jacquie D'Alessandro
Published: May 2000 (Kensington)
Category: Contemporary Romance
Rating: 8/10

Melanie Gibson (Yes, she's called Mel for short...) owns a growing takeout and catering business. She's applying for a loan that will be instrumental in taking the Pampered Palate into the upscale catering world. On her worst day at work ever, where she can't deliver fifteen gourmet meals because of a canceled order, her car won't start, her heel breaks off, it's pouring rain, she meets an irritated man she's blocked in with her double parked car that won't start.

Christopher Bishop is an accountant, but not like the ones you imagine. He looks like he stepped out of a Ralph Lauren ad, drives a Mercedes and a Harley, is nice to Melanie's grandmother, has a sense of humor, and knows how to fix things like garbage disposals and cars. That last part is very hot and manly, coming from the viewpoint of someone who had to fix her toilet because her boyfriend didn't know anythinga bout the inside of a toilet tank. After his father died suddenly, he took on the responsibility of sending his siblings to college. At the age of thirty, he's finally finished with that duty and wants to enjoy the freedoms of bachelorhood. But Melanie hurtled into his life and he fell for her and her grandmother's fried chicken.

The blurbs available for this book, including the one on the back cover, are slightly off. Chris does work for the accounting firm evaluating Melanie's business, but he's not the accountant assigned to the case. When he overhears that another eatery is opening close to Pampered Palate, his ethics won't allow him not to tell his coworker working on Melanie's case. And there is the crux of the obstacle-to-HEA. Chris figured he wouldn't tell Melanie about this because he didn't want to worry her for the two weeks that it would take for the bank to evaluate the application, and it could very well be approved despite the info he supplied. Then she got mad at him for not telling her and sleeping with her when he knew about this threat to her business.

There is no unnecessary dragging out of the couple's estrangement after the revelation of the truth, which I really appreciated. People said sorry and marriage proposals were made in the most adorable of fashions. I thought Chris and Melanie were the cutest couple and I laughed more than once, as I find I do when I read a D'Alessandro book.

Definitely pick this up for a quick funny read.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Ain't Myth-Behaving

Author: Katie MacAlister
Published: September 2007 (Pocket Books)
Category: Paranormal Romance
Rating: 7/10

Ain't Myth-Behaving is composed of two novellas: Stag Party and Norse Truly.

In Stag Party, Dane Kearne, the current Irish fertility God called Cernunnos, is about to have his yearly wedding to his goddess. However, she's run off with Dionysus, who's gone off the drink and become a salsa dancer. If he doesn't get married to a new goddess (becoming his goddess, and therefore immortal, is a perk of marrying Cernunnos, Dane will return to his mortal state, and being over 1000 years old, he'd crumble into dust. As he has about a week to find a candidate, he chooses the one available woman who doesn't annoy him: a travel writer named Megan St. Clair, who's visiting his castle to cover the Beltane ceremonies.

This really wasn't MacAlister's best, and I'm not entirely sure if being a full-length novel would've saved it either. I felt like it was all about the conflict as I didn't get much of a feel for Megan as a heroine. There was no real purpose. Sure, Dane had to marry Megan, but there was some background enemy plotting against him, and his ex-wife, pregnant with another god's baby is back and wants to get rid of the American interloper. At times, the story feels kind of aimless and my favorite part came at the end when Taranis' fury wife took care of all the problems because she wanted to have some barbecued chicken.

Norse Truly was better than Stag Party as it handled the limitations of a novella better. Brynna Lund, an American visiting her Swedish relatives, drives off a cliff and is rescued by a crew of cursed vikings, led by Alrik Sigurdsson. As Brynna has Valkyrie blood, she could bring them to Valhalla, but not until their curse is lifted by Brynna's ancestor. They embark on a quest that involves calling up Alrik's mother's ghost, Brynna marrying Alrik and therefore becoming a mom of sorts to his crew, and meeting a henpecked dragon who wants Alrik to put him out of his misery.

This second half of Ain't Myth-Behaving was really cute and a nice change from the English settings I tend to prefer in my romances. However, that does not mean that I'm going to start amassing viking romances. Are there even any viking romances? I figure Scottish romances are more popular, and I tend to avoid those too.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Never a Lady

Author: Jacquie D'Alessandro
Published: July 2006 (Avon)
Cateogry: Regency Romance
Rating: 7/10

Sorry, another short one and I'm cheating with a blurb because it's been a few weeks since I read it.

The interesting thing about these particular D’Alessandro books is the not-horrendous cover. But then you open the front cover to reveal the tip-in and it’s very classic smutty romance art. This isn’t a problem except for when I’m checking books in or out of the library and they have to scan the bar code on the inside cover.

Colin Oliver, Viscount Sutton, left his beloved Cornwall for London to find a bride—some comely, proper, wellborn lady to bear him an heir. Certainly not someone like Madame Alexandra Larchmont. Yes, she's the toast of the ton, and a rare beauty to be sure. But she's also a fortune-teller. And Colin has an excellent reason for keeping a sharp watch on this one . . .

The cards have warned Alexandra for years about a dark-haired stranger who would wreak havoc with her life, so when she sees him at a soiree, her first thought is to run. Unfortunately, she overhears a murder plot, and the only person she can turn to for help is a man she knows she should stay away from, a man who eyes her with an undisguised hunger.

But fate's strange turns are Alexandra's stock in trade. And if love is written in the cards, surely nothing is impossible!

Alexandra used to be a street urchin and years ago, she’d attempted to pickpocket Colin, who caught her due to his skills gained as a spy for England. In the years since, Colin searched the uglier parts of London for the young woman he couldn’t forget. Alexandra, on the other hand, was constantly reminded of Colin in her tarot cards (which is a not something she’s faking for the ton’s amusement).

This was one of those Serendipity situations, where two people meet and separate without any knowledge of each other, longing to see the other again, despite the odds. So when Alexandra and Colin meet again, they both realize they’ve finally found what they’re looking for, but Alexandra thinks she’s not good enough for him, and Colin doesn’t admit that he knows about her past. I was getting a little annoyed waiting for the truth to come out.

I thought this book was fun, but not as good as some of D’Alessandro’s other work. A bunch of little things annoyed me enough, but I’m eager to read Not Quite a Gentleman, the book before Never a Lady, which tells Colin’s brother’s story. Dr. Nathan Oliver, a side character in this novel, is a gentleman doctor who loves animals and isn’t shy about sharing them with his older brother.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Edge of the Moon

Author: Rebecca York
Published: August 5, 2003 (Berkley)
Category: Paranormal Romance
Series: Moon Series #2
Rating: 6/10

I was excited to read Edge of the Moon because Killing Moon was a surprisingly good read for a random book that I picked up. Instead of being a werewolf story like the title leads you to believe, it's about Jack Thornton, the cop Ross Marshall worked with in the first book. Neither Jack nor the heroine, Kathryn, have any paranormal abilities or knowledge, and that really hurts the story.

Most of the book was taken up with Jack and Kathryn being confused about what's happening to them. The problem with a world where the paranormal isn't widely accepted is dealing with the characters' blundering about; there isn't even a wise figure who can educate them about this new aspect to the world. Jack and Kathryn dealt with some unknown force from a parallel universe manipulating events for its benefit. They have to be the pawns, or else it will obliterate a good chunk of Earth to escape the clutches of a magician looking to enslave it.

There was a bit of Ross and Megan from Killing Moon, which was nice, but the book fell flat for me.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Whirlwind Affair

Author: Jacquie D'Alessandro
Published: October 2002 (Bantam)
Category: Regency Romance
Rating: 8/10

Ack, I'm about eight books behind in my reviews! I picked this one up because Whirlwind Wedding was a fun book, and I'm slowly gathering the rest of D'Alessandro's backlist for my ginormous TBR. Alberta, the heroine, was mentioned in WW, as the friend that drove Elizabeth to leave her home in America. Elizabeth, now the Duchess of Bradford, had a vision about Alberta's no-good husband-to-be, and Alberta thought her friend was just jealous and trying to ruin her happiness. It turns out Elizabeth's vision was very correct, since Mr. Brown was a womanizer, thief, and blackmailer to boot. As this is one of those books I read a while ago, I'll quote the blurb for summarizing purposes.

After the scandalous duel that made her a widow, Alberta Brown was left destitute--and in possession of a cache of ill-gotten goods. Determined to right the wrongs of her thieving husband, she sailed to England to locate the owner of a gentleman's ring bearing an intriguing coat of arms. But a series of mishaps on-board soon convinced Allie that she was enmeshed in a perilous game. Yet none was more dangerous--or irresistibly tempting--than the dashing stranger waiting on the dock.

The marriage-minded Lord Robert Jamison was searching for a women who aroused that certain something. He never expected to find her in this uncommonly pretty, fiercely independent American he'd been asked to escort back to a splendid country estate. Allie was in grave danger--worse, she vowed never to marry again. Yet Lord Robert's will was just as strong--and he planned to make this maddening creature his wife, even as passion drove them into each other's arms...and a reckless liaison flamed into the season's most indiscreet and irresistible affair of the heart...

It's always refreshing to see a hero who's looking for a love match. Usually it's the fresh-faced virgin who dreams of a handsome, titled, wealthy man to love her, but Allie and Robert are different. She vows never to make herself vulnerable to a man who might hurt her, and Robert knows this is the woman he's been waiting for. While Allie doesn't want to marry again, she knows that she's attracted to Robert and agrees to an affair.

The background plot involving the return of the coat of arms ring is interesting, if not a bit predictable. The ring brings danger for Allie and Robert, as they are kidnapped, and Allie's room in London is burgled twice. However, this danger causes Robert to become protective of her, but not in an overbearing way. It's sweet and makes you want Robert for yourself, and perhaps want to shake Allie a little.

We also get to see Elizabeth and Austin from Whirlwind Wedding, as Robert and Allie arrive at Bradford Hall just in time for the birth of their child. Of course there's some good-natured joking over Austin's worries regarding the length of childbirth and ruining Elizabeth's favorite rug with his intense pacing.

This was a fun read, and I have picked up a bunch of other D'Alessandro titles from the library. Yay for backlists!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Mad, Bad Duke

Author: Jennifer Ashley
Published: November 2006 (Leisure Books)
Category: Regency Romance/Fantasy
Series: Nvengaria #2
Rating: 8/10

I enjoyed Jennifer Ashley's Immortals series, so I figured I'd give her regency romances a try, as they have a fantasy twist. The Mad, Bad Duke has hints of Beauty and the Beast. The Nvengaria series features people from the tiny country of Nvengaria (somewhere in the Balkans) as they wade through British diplomacy and social customs. Nvengarians are a magical and passionate people, very at odds with the stuffy Brits.

Meagan Tavistock, daughter of a not-too-well-off untitled gentleman, was dragged along with her friend, Mrs. Deirdre Braithwaite to a witch's house for the purpose of obtaining a love spell. Deirdre is that sort of friend you wish you didn't have, as she's bossy and threatens Meagan in order to make her fall in to her plan to cuckold her husband by seducing Grand Duke Alexander of Nvengaria, right hand man to Prince Damien (from the first book, Penelope and Prince Charming). He's extremely powerful in that "danger beneath the smooth, civilized exterior" kind of way. Instead of making a love spell for Deirdre, the witch makes the spell for Meagan instead.

The spell treats both Meagan and Alexander to shared erotic visions, and when they meet at a ball, they make love, and get away undiscovered. Alexander, being a man of honor, and one unable to stop thinking about this lovely young woman, proposes marriage... via a letter to Meagan's father the next morning. They do get married, and boink like crazy afterward, but the possibility that they might not be happy with the marriage after the love spell fades looms in the near future.

Clearly, Alexander's obstacle as a hero is his refusal to let go of his cool and super serious attitude. The love spell makes it extremely difficult to stay that way, as every time he and Meagan are in the same general area, the spell drags them into the visions. Well, actually, his other obstacle is dealing with his mother's legacy. She was a logosh, a sort of Nvengarian shape-shifting demon, and Alexander's tight control over his emotions has repressed this side of his nature all his life. The love spell opened the way for his other side to emerge and he's trying to control it without hurting Meagan or his young son from his first marriage. He does that annoying romantic hero thing where he pushes his new wife away without giving an explanation, when a bit of communication would've made things a lot easier.

They do get married, and their relationship is so funny in that bickering kind of way. One particular giggle-inducing moment has Meagan mispronouncing the Nvengarian word for salt so she asks for some penis at the dinner table by accident. Clearly, I have the maturity of a ten-year old. Meagan is unprepared for the role of Grand Duchess and is new to the political intrigues that can occur during a ball. I found myself rooting for Meagan as she rose above the bitchy Deirdre and the society women who thought she wasn't good enough for Alexander.

I really enjoyed reading this book and have placed Penelope and Prince Charming on my "To Buy" list. The third Nvengaria book is Highlander Ever After, is scheduled for April 2008 release. Jennifer Ashley actually stopped by my little blog the other day and left a comment my review on The Gathering! I was so honored and sheepish over the fact that she responded to a comment I made about the name for a certain lion...

Saturday, October 13, 2007

A Hunger Like No Other

Author: Kresley Cole
Published: March 2006 (Pocket Books)
Category: Paranormal Romance
Series: Immortals After Dark #1
Rating: 5/10

I bought this book because I was trying to get my shopping cart to $25 so I could get free shipping. It's well rated, and a series, so I figured it'd probably be worth it. Sadly, it wasn't very entertaining.

The hero, Lachlain MacRieve, is the king of the Lykae, and was imprisoned by the vampire Horde for 150 years, tortured in mythical Greek style. He was constantly burned to a crisp by these huge fires, but his immortality kept reviving him. He escapes when he catches the scent of his destined mate above his head, walking on the streets of Paris. However, she's not at all what he expected.

Emmaline Troy, the mate in question, is half Valkyrie and half vampire, quite a problem for furthering a healthy relationship with a man who hates what she is (Lykae don't like vampire and Valkyrie). She's rather fragile, and has strict rules about drinking blood. She won't take blood from a living source, getting her nourishment from blood banks, but she's going hungry in Paris while trying to learn more about her vampire father. To make a bad day worse, a big angry Lykae pounces on her and rips her shirt off in the rain to rub his chest against hers, and then kidnaps her, forcing her to stay with him until the next full moon. She doesn't know that she's his mate, as the feeling is pretty one sided, and she's therefore unaware that at the full moon, Lachlain will give in to his instinct and mate with her rather violently.

I was bored for most of the book, as Lachlain keeps Emma prisoner, despite her wishes to go back home, and he forces himself on her (i.e. fondling her in the shower, taking liberties while she's sleeping, etc) while showing his disgust for her vampire heritage. He says that his instinct drives him to protect his mate, but he does a piss-poor job of it the first night, as he forgets that she can't be exposed to the sun. It's not like he didn't know she was a vampire, so maybe he subconsciously wanted to hurt her? Even though he keeps promising that he could never harm her? He keeps hurting her through the whole book, emotionally and physically!

So I spent two-thirds of the book reading of their constant sniping at each other (not even the entertaining kind of sniping), her "woe is me, I can't help myself" attitude while waiting for the inevitable soul-changing bonding ritual, and his "I can' hurt her and have to relieve my pressure in the shower because I want my mate so bad even though I hate what she is" thought cycle. I was also annoyed by Lachlain's accent, as rather than just describing that he has a Scottish accent, Cole wrote his accent into the dialogue, with "ken," "can'," and "doona" sprinkled all over the book.

There's also a ridiculous lack of communication. He lies about her being his mate, later claiming that it was for her protection as he was afraid she'd freak out when she found out. Surprise surprise, she freaks out about him lying after the truth comes out. She doesn't tell him about how she's not full vampire, and starves for four days when she's supposed to feed every day.

And after all of the "I don't want you, let me go home" stuff, the full moon comes and he takes her violently when he was trying to avoid it the whole time, as she's a seventy year-old virgin (take that Steve Carell!). Then she changes her attitude completely and is content to be with Lachlain. I found it too fast after all the animosity and didn't really feel any love from Emma. Lachlain's love was one of lust and desperation and the fact that he finally admired her for her intelligence, wit, and beauty seemed more of an afterthought.

This is not a sweet and entertaining paranormal romance, so avoid this book if that's what you're really looking for.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Perils of Pursuing a Prince

Author: Julia London
Published: May 2007 (Pocket Books)
Category: Regency Romance
Series: Desperate Debutantes #2
Rating: 8/10

This entry into the Desperate Debutantes Trilogy was such candy. It almost went to "so bad it's good" level, with its angsty drama, brooding hero, and surprisingly clueless, yet wanton heroine. I couldn't put it down though, due to some strange drug that must be printed into the pages.

I thought Greer was supposed to be the smart one amongst the three sisters, but she was annoyingly gullible to Mr. Percy's banbury tale and behaved rather shamelessly, kissing both men (not at the same time!). Rhodrick and the setting sort of reminded me of Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre. He's a dark man, not particularly handsome, and has a secret from his past. Fear not, it's not an insane wife stashed in the attic!

Lady Greer Fairchild’s only hope of avoiding marriage to the first bidder is journeying into the untamed Welsh countryside in search of an inheritance she’s not sure even exists—one reportedly controlled by Rhodrick Glendower, Earl of Radnor, also known as the Prince of Powys. Rumor has it that the prince is rough, ruthless—even a murderer. But Greer never imagined that the brute would refuse to let her leave his remote castle until she has proven her identity. Or that she would find herself powerfully attracted to this passionately virile man whose gruff demeanor belies a proud and sensual nature. The further Greer falls under his spell, the more determined she becomes to unravel the secrets of her Welsh heritage and the mystery surrounding the dark prince who dares her to become his wife and princess.

There's something that hints of Phantom of the Opera in Rhodrick's desire for Greer. The first time he speaks to Greer, she drops her handkerchief, he finds it after she leaves, and carries it with him after that. Call it sweet or stalker-ish, but I thought it was so romantic. He finds her beautiful, but there's that whole "I'm a hulking ugly man" thing at the same time. He also has this belief that he can't be happy with another woman after the death of his wife. In a rare occurrence in historical romances, the hero was in love with his first wife.

I love the endings of these Desperate Debutante books, despite the horrible name for the trilogy. They're so dramatically romantic in a magical movie moment kind of way, and I kept wishing that the HEA part (after the couple has acknowledged the fact that they're meant to be together) would keep going. We do get to see the lovely reunion of the three sisters and the humorous introduction of Rhodrick to his new family though.

I can't wait to get my copy of Dangers of Deceiving a Viscount, the final book in the trilogy!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Don't Talk Back to Your Vampire

Author: Michele Bardsley
Published: July 3, 2007 (Signet)
Category: Paranormal Romance
Series: Broken Heart #2
Rating: 7/10

Sorry, this'll be short as I read this a few weeks ago and I'm trying to catch up.

As seen in I'm the Vampire, That's Why, Bardsley really doesn't waste any text in getting into the story. In this second book in the Broken Heart vampire series, Eva, the town librarian, and Lorcan, ancient vampire scholar, become mates. There are some hiccups to their becoming a couple, as Lorcan was the one who "killed" Eva in the first place, when he attacked eleven humans in the first book, forcing the Consortium to Turn the victims.

I was a little disappointed that Bardsley chose to make the next book about a new couple, rather than making the series about Patrick and Jessica, but at least they did appear in a good part of this one. I'm so glad Lorcan found happiness, as he was guilty over what he'd done while undergoing the cure to the Taint. However, I didn't think the storyline was as tight as the first book in the series. There's a mysterious influx of unfriendly vampire-lycan half-breeds. As part of Eva's new vampire powers, she can "talk" to animals, and they follow her around. This talent also affects those vampires who have been trying to cure themselves of the Taint with lycan blood and turned into crazy half-lycans.

I was a little surprised at the true identity of the bad guy in this one, as there was a severe possible consequence to be had upon killing him. I don't think a whole family of vampires died when this ancient one was done in, but maybe they didn't get to figuring that out by the end of the book.

Eh, this one just wasn't as memorable as I'm the Vampire, That's Why, but entertaining still.