Sunday, August 29, 2010

Reynold de Burgh: The Dark Knight by Deborah Simmons

Reynold de Burgh: The Dark Knight (Harlequin Historical Series)Reynold de Burgh: The Dark Knight by Deborah Simmons

My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars

It was great to finally read Reynold's story. I love him even more after seeing him find his way to his own happy ending. Reynold really made his leg more important than it was. He thought that it was all that anyone ever saw about him, and felt bad because it made him feel different from his brothers. He needed to strike out on his own and find himself. Fortunately, his pilgrimage brought him to a group of people badly in need of a hero. Sabine and her remaining people believe they are being preyed upon by a dragon. They entreat Reynold to protect them from the dragon. Reynold doesn't really believe in dragons, but his knight code requires him to protect those in need. Plus, Peregrine, the squire appointed by his kooky l'Estrange aunts by marriage, insists he needs to do this because it's preordained as his knight's quest. Reynold agrees to help them, and finds himself falling for the blonde beauty Sabine, even knowing she can't feel the same for him because of his infirmity.

I felt that Reynold was somewhat too mopey about his leg. It makes sense, to a certain extent. Being in a family of larger than life men, it must have been hard to be born different. This mission really gets Reynold to see himself and his 'lame' leg different. It doesn't have to be something that requires him to be alone and unloved by a good woman. It doesn't have to define him as a person. He begins to see himself through others' eyes for the strong, intelligent, capable man that he is.

Sabine adores him from the beginning, although she feels he's too good for a simple Sexton's daughter. Plus she's got her own secret cross to bear that she feel makes her unworthy of a man. Reynold is drawn to her, but thinks that she just wants his skills as a knight and not him. Reynold was somewhat frustrating in how he continued to push Sabine away because of his lack of self-worth. He was the only one who didn't see how wonderful he was. He had a habit of comparing himself to his brothers in a way that wasn't favorable for him--although having read the other de Burgh books, I could see that all the brothers have their weaknesses, no less than Reynold's. I was glad that he gets a wakeup call and comes to realize how much he's indulging in self-pity.

Although I thought this was a really good book, I was disappointed on how it was way too focused on the intrigue and mystery of the dragon. I wanted to see more about Reynold and Sabine's relationship. There are no love scenes. Okay, I admit that bothered me, because all the other de Burgh books did have some nice love scenes. I felt like Reynold should have gotten some good love scenes too. I think this book would have been five stars, if it had been a touch more steamy and if the romance was more of a focus. As it is, it's still a very good book, and I am so glad that I got to read Reynold story. I love this man!

Overall rating: 4.25/5.0 stars.

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Skin Game by Ava Gray

Skin Game (Skin, #1)Skin Game by Ava Gray

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ever watch a movie and wonder, 'What if the villain ran off with the femme fatale?' Then you might like this book. I sure did. I love dark romance. Sometimes I ask myself why I enjoy seeing the dark side of this genre, not depravity and kinky deeds, cheating heroes, and bickering, but heroes and heroines who are more like antiheroes and villains, who find love and their happy ever after. I think it's my unassailable belief that love does conquer all. Like Fox Murder, I really want to believe.

Ava Gray has written an excellent offering for those of us with a taste for the noir. In this book, we have a heroine who lives for the next con, moving from town to town, and relieving fools of their money, feeling no remorse about it. But, at least she only takes money from those she thinks deserves it. On her tail is a hero who kills people for a living. Yes, an assassin. Like Kyra, he plys his trade on those who he feels deserves killing. Now, to like this story you have to be willing to read about people who are morally flexible, or at least, those have a different view of morality than the norm. I think that Ms. Gray brought these characters to life in such a manner that I could feel enough respect and empathy for them that their dark ways didn't offend me. I admit, I don't like the idea of stealing for a living. But, Kyra managed to be a heroine that I could like, although I didn't always agree with the choices she made. She had her own sense of honor, which endeared her to me.

I freely admit that I am intrigued by the idea of an assassin hero or heroine. Don't ask me why. It's morbid, but there is an appeal to seeing what motivates them to do what they do. Reyes is probably one of my favorite assassin heroes so far. He truly believes that he does a service to the world. The only reason he took Kyra's contract was because he was decieved into believing she was a bad person who needed killing. Fairly soon after he takes up with her as her apprentice in the con game world, he comes to realize that she's not the person he'd been led to believe she was.

Both Kyra and Reyes struck me as intensely lonely and somewhat sad characters. After Kyra's father was murdered, she had no one (other than her friend Mia), and lived a lonely life, seeking only the sexual satisfaction of one night stands as she travels. Although she's suspicious of Reyes at first, she ends up taking him into her solitary world, and falling for him.

Their first intimate encounter is all about lust, but Ms. Gray turns things around, allowing us to see a somewhat slow-building, and in some ways, innocent courtship between these two lonely people. They both start to hope that they have found someone who they can possibly love. However, Reyes knows he's on borrowed time. He has a job to perform. His reputation is built on always completing his kills. He doesn't want to kill Kyra, but he doesn't see a way around it. I found this a little disturbing that even halfway through the book, Reyes was still contemplating killing Kyra. I think that was a brave move on Ms. Gray's part. I held my breath, hoping that Reyes would realize that he couldn't hurt Kyra, because he loved her. Soon, this dangerous man turns his formidable skills to protecting the woman he has been hired to kill.

Skin Game is more suspense than action. I liked the fact that we were able to see the viewpoints of various characters: Kyra and Reyes; the fascinating Addison Foster, who is the security head for the man who wants Kyra dead; Mia, Kyra's friend; and Serrano, the man that Kyra used, humilated, and stole millions of dollars from, who will stop at nothing to see her dead to save his face. It gave a greater depth to this dark story, turning this book into noir romance for the thinking woman.

Skin Game is as gritty as it gets. It has some moments that made me wince a few times, as Kyra and Reyes have to deal with some enemies they make along the way. The love scenes are hot and earthy, and the love between Kyra and Reyes was believable and deep. I truly enjoyed reading this story. I was sucked into this dark tale with a silver lining. I wouldn't want to live the kinds of lives that Kyra and Reyes lead, but I liked the fact that they were able to find each other and hope for the future. They didn't really get the best hands in the poker game of life, but they managed to play a killer game with the ones they are dealt. I like the idea that even in the dark, there are those who do have motivations that show some degree of honor. Skin Game couldn't have been an easy book to write, but Ms. Gray did it very well. This one goes on my keeper shelf.

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Untamed by Pamela Clare

Untamed (MacKinnon's Rangers, #2)Untamed by Pamela Clare

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'd like to begin this review by listing some reasons that Morgan is a Hero to Die For:

1)Gorgeous, sexy, virile, delicious, with long dark hair and dark blue eyes, and a big, hard-muscled body. (Swoon).

2)He's an immensely capable warrior, a much-loved leader to his men.

3)His unimpeachable sense of honor, even when it put his life in jeopardy.

4)The gentle, loving way he treated Amalie.

5)The fact that he wasn't going to let anything stand between Amalie and him.

Aah!!! Okay, I admit that Iain is still my favorite, but Morgan is a close second. I don't understand how Pamela Clare managed to tap into the well-spring of what makes a completely unforgettable hero, and so well, yet again. But she did.

Untamed is the second book in this series, and it thoroughly immersed me into this period of American history that I was frankly never that excited about. With these books, I feel completely drawn in. I loved how she presented this war between Britain and France, with the Native tribes on both side as more than just a martial conflict, but shows us the personal sides of this war. In Untamed, we get to see the French viewpoint. I remember being a little more favorably inclined towards the French when I learned about this period, because they were able to live in peace with the Native tribes more than the British; more tolerant of their differences, and often intermarrying. Yet, Surrender forced me to be on the side of the British, because I cared about MacKinnon's Rangers and people like Anne, who becomes Iain's wife. Ms. Clare deftly manages to turn things around as she shows what life is like for Amalie, whose father is a French military officer. We see how painful it is for Amalie to see the French soldiers wounded and dying. We come to like some of them, and I was hoping that I wouldn't see them come in conflict against Morgan and his men. I liked how this story played out. We know in our minds that they will face each other again, at least in theory, but we don't have to see this up close and personal. And Morgan and Amalie get their happy ending, despite all the significant obstacles in their way.

The love story between Morgan and Amalie was both sweet and steamy. From its inception, there is a powerful bond that grows between this innocent young woman who is grieving her lost father, and the doomed prisoner she is called to nurse back to health so he can be handed over to the Abenaki, a tribe who is allied to the French, to be burned in their horrible fires (the manner in which they torture and kill their enemies). As a devout Catholic, Amalie hates the thought of this man suffering. She knows that he could have been the one who killed her father in battle, yet she cannot bring herself to hate him. If anything, it's hard not to desire and fall in love with this vital, beautiful man who she has nursed so diligently. Morgan knew he was in dire straits when he was captured by the French. He can only hope for a quick death, and dreads being burned by the Abenaki. He also fears that he will unwittingly give the secrets of his band of soldiers away as they torture him. He's determined to die with honor, protecting his brothers and men. He didn't expect to see a sweet angel watching over him. And certainly didn't plan to fall in love with her, but he did. It makes things so much worse in a sense, for she calls to him to abandon all he stands for to be with her. And that's easier than it seems, or it would be, if Morgan wasn't honor-bound to his commitment to fight for the British by the blackmail that his commander Wentworth holds over his head. In this book, we see a strong, honorable man who is struggling to do the right thing. And I never lost faith that Morgan would hold true to his principles. Even when things get really hard for him.

Untamed is different from Surrender in that there are more quiet moments between Morgan and Amalie, where their courtship progresses and grows. It is somewhat suspenseful, rather than featuring lots of overt action sequences, as Morgan is forced to maintain his facade as a Scot who takes his rightful place with his Catholic brethren, the French, even though his heart still holds true to his loyalty to his men and his brothers. I feared the aftermath as he surely would be declared a traitor by the British. There are some real knuckle-biting moments as this book unfolds.

It was great to see Iain and Annie, happily married, though mourning their lost brother, Morgan; Connor, Joseph, the other Rangers, and yes, Wentworth. That sly devil has wormed his way deeper into my heart. I can't wait for him to meet a woman who shows him the error of his ways. Each book shows deeper layers to him that make me very desirous for him to get his own story.

This book was wonderfully executed, and I enjoyed it very much. I long for romantic adventures that show me snapshots of the past, through the eyes of people who might have lived and loved during those times. I highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy historical romance with intrigue and adventure, and sweet, yet sensual love stories between characters who you cannot help but love and root for their happy ending together.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Romance Trends I Don't Get!

I wanted to say these things from the bottom of my heart to romance writers out there. This is done out of love--love for the genre of romance. Love for romance books. Love for authors who write these books. There are things I just don't get about the distressingly common trends. Some of this will come in the form of questions. This may continue onto other blog entries. For now I'll tackle the biggie for me.....

*Sleeping with other people:

Please explain to me how this romantic for the hero to spend most or a significant part of the book with his mistress, who is not the heroine, particularly when he's been married to the heroine for years?
One might argue that love conquers all and there is a huge obstacle here. To me, it just shows a man who's inconstant. If he can't confine his sexual needs to the heroine when some obstacle occurs in their relationship, I don't think love is going to change this puppy's heart. What if something else happens. Is he running off to his mistress again? Probably.

How can the heroine's magic vagina get the completely promiscuous hero who's slept with more women than he can count cause him to fall in love with and only desire her?
I'm aiming this at the erotic/sensual romances where the heroine is the hero's next and last (and miraculously best, even after hundreds of women) lover. All of a sudden, because the sex is so great, he can imagine spending his life with one vagina for the rest of his life, because hers is so magic. Really? Nah! Not very likely. Now, if the author can show that there is much more than sex, that sex isn't even what drew him, then maybe I can buy that a hero will change his previously slutty ways for good. But, otherwise, I have this feeling that he's going to start getting 'familiar vagina syndrome' and he'll stray (off camera from the end of the book, of course.

How is a romance book romantic when the hero and heroine are separated for years and are sleeping with other people?
Does the magic wand just get waved to wipe away all the ugly memories of all the other people who shared their bodies with your spouse? I don't think so. That's years of emotional damage crowding the figurative marriage bed. That's a lot of people in bed with that married couple. When your husband tries a move that he learned with the ten women he slept with while you were apart, please try to tell me that it won't stick in your craw. Vice versa. I'm sorry, but I can't suspend disbelief that love is going to win out in this case. I admit it--I am too darn possessive to share a man. Ever! If he slept with others before me, I guess I have to deal with it. But once he's my husband, that's it. When I read this in a romance, that's the record that's playing in my head. No "happily ever after" birds are trilling their song here.

Since when is one man not enough for a heroine?
I don't get the whole menage thing. How this is considered romance. I can see how this is ultimate fantasy fulfillment from an erotic sense. But, for a lasting relationship based on love and respect, how can a threesome (or in some case, foursome) be considered a satisfactory romantic conclusion? Has something changed? Does it really take three men to satisfy one particular woman? How is that even physically healthy and comfortable or beneficial to a woman's well-being to have three-four continual, ongoing (often at the same time) lovers? And what about kids? What kind of family dynamic is that for a woman/men/children not to know who is the father of any given child? Okay, maybe I lack imagination, but I can't suspend disbelief.

Disclaimer: I realize that it's a matter of personal taste. I really do. I know that I like the whole dangerous hero thing. But that doesn't negate the ability to believe in true love. In fact, it's a demonstration of love in its purest form. That a woman's love can redeem the worst kind of man. That's glorious. I can totally deal with a hero who's an assassin, yes, he kills people. Well, let's hope he stops because of his love for the heroine. So long as he doesn't cheat on the heroine. Then, well he's in the doghouse.

Inquiring mind here who just wants to know!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Magic Burns by Kate Daniels

Magic Burns (Kate Daniels, #2)Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kate Daniels, could you be more awesome? Nope. This book rocked my world! I loved the first book, but I loved this one even more. Kate Daniels is such a cool heroine. She's not only kickbutt, independent, and snarky, but she's utterly likeable. She's down to earth, and one of those heroines I think a guy or a girl could get along with equally well. I like her quick thinking and her ability to get out of some pretty nasty spots. And her willingness to do the right thing, even at personal cost to herself. And she's so funny! I think her one liners are hilarious, and her internal dialogue really puts me in the action and gives me an identification factor.

The action in this book was fantastic. A little bit gory and gruesome, but the fast pace allows you to tolerate that aspect fairly well. It's like watching a really good movie. The climax was one heck of a battle. I can't say I've read many other urban fantasy books where the conclusion had me so riveted. Ilona Andrews really knows how to write action, and that's coming from a very picky reader when it comes to action scenes.

The use of magic and the ugly and beneficial aspects fit very well with this particular story. The descriptions of the freaky version of a modern day Atlanta that has been morphed by magic into a sort of dystopian future setting, rife with deadly and mystical creatures were very vivid and iconic. I think this is such a great idea for an urban fantasy series.

I thought the Celtic mythology elements were very well done. The whole use of Morrigan and the Formorians. It tied in so smoothly with the overall plot. There wasn't boring periods where info dump slowed down the story. There was a huge element of risk here where you really worried if everything was going to be resolved well.

To be honest, I didn't really think of Curran as much of a love interest in the first book. There was a bit of potential, and he had me intrigued, although I wasn't sold. But, I could really see the attraction between Kate and Curran, and I was digging Curran pretty hard. He's...well, he's the Beast Lord, with all that applies. I like the back and forth between Kate and Curran. How she's attracted and kind of scared of him (because he's pretty scary, let's face it), but she won't allow herself not to stand up to him. It's pretty clear that Curran has it bad for Kate. I loved his courtship ritual that she didn't pick up on (it had to be explained by a few members of the Pack). I love the slow build of their relationship, with all the nice 'flirting moments'. I can't way to see things progress with this couple.

Kate's sidekicks were cool. Derek is adorable but a tough fighter. I loved Julie. I hope to see more of her. All the contacts and the acquaintances that Kate has stand out in my mind, each adding to the story in crucial ways. And then there was Bran. A very interesting character with a complex relationship with Kate.

Man, oh, man. I had no idea how much I would come to love this series. It just keeps getting better and better. I was so pumped after reading this book, it took me a whole hour to calm down. Magic Burns is highly recommended to the discerning urban fantasy reader who likes a great heroine, kickbutt action, wonderful world-building, and intriguing secondary characters. I'm going to try to keep myself from devouring this series back to back. I need to have a guaranteed read in my pile for that 'rainy day', and the Kate Daniels series is definitely that!

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The Greek Tycoon's Disobedient Bride by Lynne Graham

The Greek Tycoon's Disobedient Bride (Virgin Brides, Arrogant Husbands, #1) (Harlequin Presents, #2779)The Greek Tycoon's Disobedient Bride by Lynne Graham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's amazing how the arrogant hero becomes the besotted husband in Lynne Graham's books. After seeing Lysander's selfish playboy ways in the other books in this series, I was prepared to dislike Lysander. I actually ended up liking him more than his two friends. At the beginning of this book, he's definitely a womanizing type, bringing his current bed-warmer, a snooty Russian model, to the hearing of Ophelia's grandmother's will. However, one look at natural, down-to-earth Ophelia's beauty, and the Russian model is history.

Lysander originally came for one thing, to gain possession of Ophelia's home. It belonged to his mother, but Ophelia's grandmother refused to sell it to the Metaxis family out of bitterness, since Lysander's father left Ophelia's mother at the altar. In her will, she stipulated that half of the property would belong to Ophelia and Lysander, but only if they married. If not, the property would be so tied it up, it would take five years for Lysander to be able to buy it. Of course, Lysander is not happy about this development, but having a sexy wife like Ophelia that he can keep in the country sweetens the deal.

Ophelia has no desire to be married to a sleazy womanizer like Lysander Metaxis, no matter how much money he has. She just wants the right to her family home, and if not that, the walled garden that has been her own baby to nurture. And she also wants to find out where her half-sister Molly was taken after her grandmother took her in on her mother's death. The only way to get those things is to marry Lysander.

It turns out her grandmother double-crosses both of them, and the media finds out about his marriage, and Lysander feels that all bets are off. He will at least have his sexy bride in his bed, until they can safely dissolve this marriage.

I would say that Lysander falls pretty heavy and fast. He will do just about anything to keep Ophelia happy. He has fears of commitment due to his real father and mother and the sordid life he led before he was adopted by the Metaxis. But, Ophelia soon finds her way in his heart, even if he's afraid to confess it. Ophelia has her doubts that Lysander truly loves her, especially when she finds out his mother is sick, and believes he's acting like he's happily married on her account. Lysander's gestures are great, but Ophelia needs the words too. Never fear. This is Harlequin, and Lynne Graham, so there is a deliriously happy ending for all.

This was a quick, sexy, entertaining read. Fans of Lynne Graham should enjoy it very much, because it showcases all her strengths as a writer.

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The Italian's Demand by Sara Wood

The Italian's Demand: Italians Husband (Harlequin Presents, #2354)The Italian's Demand: Italians Husband by Sara Wood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't think I've read very many Harlequin Presents where I liked and felt for the hero as much as I did for Vittore. He was a very good man whose heart had been ripped out when his dead wife stole his three month old baby. He barely existed until he gets a call from England that gives him a lead on where his son might be. When he gets there, he meets Verity, who is his wife's adopted sister. She's a beautiful, voluptuous vision that reminds him that he's been dead to his body's needs for over a year. Verity was appointed as Lio's guardian, unofficially, since her sister never legally divorced Vittore. He's determined to take his son back to Italy, but there's a problem. Lio has terrible separation anxiety, and he's completely bonded to Verity. Vittore decides that he needs to take Verity with them. It's a decision made a lot easier by his attraction to her.

Verity has fallen in love with young Lio. She started to believe that he would be her own child, since her sister is dead, and she thought that Vittore didn't even care about Lio. When Vittore arrives, it bursts her bubble, because she knows she doesn't have the right to deny him his son. She finds herself very attracted to her dead sister's husband, despite all the horrible lies that her sister told her about Vittore, that he was a heartless womanizer and a terrible husband.

There is a blazing attraction between the two from the very beginning, one that they both want to act on, on a visceral level. Vittore has made up his mind that Verity will be his mistress while she is in Italy with him, allowing Lio to get used to being with his real family. His strong attraction to Verity is too much to ignore. He hasn't felt like this over a woman in a long time. After losing his baby, he didn't think he could. They strike a bargain. If Lio doesn't get used to his father and new home in six months, Verity can bring him back to England. If it happens sooner than six months, Verity will become Vittore's lover. Although Vittore's motives don't seem pure, it's very clear that he's a good man. He has several opportunities to take advantage of Verity, since she's a sleep walker, and inadvertently comes onto him when she's sleeping. He treats Verity kindly, and encourages his people to show her respect, even though they all hate her sister. He finds himself falling deeply in love with Verity. She's everything her sister wasn't. I consider Vittore a good example of a beta hero. Caring, considerate, thoughtful, but strong-minded. He doesn't throw his weight around or try to intimidate Verity. He knows his rights for his son, and he's not afraid to fight for them. Even though he wants Verity, he doesn't play underhanded games about it. He's up front about his motives.

Verity soon comes to realize that her sister made up a flaming pack of lies about Vittore, and how bad a mother and a person her sister was. Her heart is breaking, because she knows she doesn't have any legal right to Lio, other than as an aunt, and she's falling in love with Vittore, but wants to be more than his lover and unofficial nanny. She can't believe this sophisticated, gorgeous man could want her when he had her glamorous sister as a wife, and his beautiful ex-betrothed is in the picture.

The emotions in this story were very intense. I felt for Verity, Vittore, and poor Lio. Verity's sister and Vittore's dead wife really created a horrible mess with her selfish behavior. But it turns out to be a good thing, because it brings these two kindred souls with a mutually strong love for baby Lio together. I really liked this book.

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Island of Dolphins by Lillian Cheatham

Island Of Dolphins by Lillian Cheatham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh, Drama! This was just what the doctor ordered. Sometimes I crave these older Harlequin chock full of drama. The hero is a real b*stard in this book. He needed a slap or two, to be honest. I can't imagine why he thinks that being mean to a woman shows his love and devotion. I didn't really like Mark at all. He was just a bully in my opinion. But, there is something about Lillian Cheatham's writing that keeps me reading and enjoying her books, even if the hero is a putz. I did like Juliet. She had some gumption, although she turned a little weak-kneed at Mark's punishing kisses.

I can't explain why these oldies appeal to me. They are like my soap operas, but even better. The whole, "I hate you but I want you, and you will be mine." And the "Oh, you are such a brute! Stay away from me, but I can't help seeing that you are very sexy!" storylines make for great reads. And then there's Mark's geeky (that part was cool) but spineless brother (not cool) who throws temper tantrums when he doesn't get his way. He even lies and says Juliet has been sleeping with him because he's jealous of Mark taking her away from him (although she's only his assistant and doesn't have any romantic feelings for him). Throw in an evil ex-mistress (also the island nurse) who wants to get back her short-lived status in Mark's revolving bed. And then there is a scheming teen who has been promised by her overbearing mother that she will net Mark as her husband. Classic!

Great scenery with the Caribbean island setting, and a heroine who is a skilled editor and knows her subject (her stepfather was an expert in cetaceans and she actually wrote his book for him although she didn't take credit). There are a couple of scenes with the dolphins, which add to this book's appeal.

Really, Juliet was a lovely heroine. She was worth fifty of Mark. He was a real jerk, who didn't know a good woman when he saw one. He needed his mouth washed out for some of the nasty things he said to Juliet. Just when I was starting to think he might be a decent person (when he saves a local boy after a near-fatal stingray bite), he turns into Mr. Octopus Hands with a bad mouth. Sigh. The fool was very much in love with Juliet, but he was very clueless on how to show it. And, somehow Juliet fell in love with this creep. It was fun to read.

This really gave me my needed Vintage Harlequin drama fix. If you like this sort of thing, I think you'd enjoy this book, because it was very well written. Too bad Lillian Cheatham wasn't a very prolific Harlequin author. Her books always satisfy.

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Just Friends...To Just Married by Renee Roszel

Just Friends To...Just Married (Harlequin Romance)Just Friends To...Just Married by Renee Roszel

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

This is one to read if you like friends to lovers romances. Jax was too adorable. I loved him. He was stone cold in love with Kim for many years. She was his neighbor who brought joy to his lonely life when he was a geeky teen. He fell in love with her, but she only saw him as a friend, or so they both thought. He's tired of her running to him when she gets her heart broken by another man, and brushing him off as just her best friend. He wants more. So, he goes away to Chicago for school and stays there. But, Kim comes running to him again when her live-in lover leaves her because he wants marriage and she doesn't. This time, Jax is ready to get her out of his life for good, so he can finally mend the hole in his heart.

Kim was very frustrating to me. I think she was a nice person, but she was very insensitive about Jax's feelings. She had put him in the 'friend' box because of her mammoth fears of commitment from her mother's many marriages and relationships. She was afraid to pursue a romantic involvement with Jax because she couldn't bear the thought of that destroying their closeness, since they'd inevitably fight and break-up. But, in the process, she hurt him again and again. This book has a heavy POV from Jax's perspective, which made the book for me. If it was just from Kim's, I think I would have given up, because I didn't like her. I can understand how her mother's mistakes scarred her, but I felt like she needed to grow up. If she could commit to living with a man that she merely liked for two years, I didn't see why she couldn't consider marriage and a committed relationship with a man she truly loved, who had never let her down, Jax. Love is taking risks, but those risks pay off when you meet the 'one', who loves you so much that he puts your needs first, almost always. That was Jax. She seemed willing to allow herself to get into passionate relationships with the wrong men easily, so long as she could keep her heart uninvolved. It wasn't that much of a jump for her to take a chance with Jax who was definitely the right man. Kim definitely lacked some maturity, in my opinion.

In contrast, Jax did the right thing, again and again, even though it hurt him. He was all you could ask for in a guy. It was very painful to see him suffering, and knowing that Kim was so clueless. I was glad that his friend and business-partner did some heavy meddling to throw them together so that Jax could sleep with her and get her out of his system. Not for the same reasons, per se. Because it really gave Kim a wake-up call about how she truly felt about Jax. But, being an emotional coward, Kim does a runner. It would have served her right if Jax wrote her off. But he goes after her, and it turns out to be a good thing. She's so lucky to have this guy. Hopefully she will realize just how lucky she is at some point in the future.

If you don't mind a book where you want to slap some sense into the heroine, so long as you can enjoy a splendidly great hero, you might enjoy this book. Especially if you're a fan of the friends to lovers theme. Because Kim was such a pain, I'd give this book a 3.5/5.0 star rating .

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Destined to Meet by Jessica Steele

Destined to Meet by Jessica Steele

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not a terribly exciting story, but Destined to Meet has a charm to it. I love the British Harlequin Romances. They are nice fare to take me away from my existence and to read a nice love story.

Bevin meets Jarvis when she's horribly sick. She approaches him to do a survey on the street as part of her new job, and faints right in front of him. Jarvis ends up taking her home to his apartment to recover, for lack of anywhere else to take her, and the fact that he's drawn to her. She seems to be what was missing in his life, and she falls right into his arms. His sister shows up and assumes that Bevin is Jarvis's new squeeze. This is timely since his late grandfather's will requires him to marry before his next birthday. Bevin is still confused and sick when she answers the door and meets his sister, and unwittingly agrees when Rosalind suggests that she's Jarvis's fiance. This is good and bad news for Jarvis, because it gives him a buffer between him and his pushy relatives, although it also puts pressure on him to move up the wedding date.

What follows is a bit of comedy of manners, although it's not particularly humorous. Bevin's tendency to be tongue-tied when she's on the spot, and her gentle nature has her inadvertently agreeing to what the very pushy Rosalind suggests regarding her relationship with Jarvis, digging their hole deeper each time. Jarvis gets frustrated each time, but can't stay mad at the sweet angel he ended up bring home with him. Bevin and Jarvis go along with their "fake" engagement, and spend time together, coming to realize that they make each other's lives complete.

I have a weakness for these British Harlequins, so it was enjoyable to me on those grounds, although a bit slow-paced and drama free (I like my Harlequin drama--what can I say?). I felt Bevin needed to be more assertive, in general. She seemed to go along with things too easily, although she showed backbone with Jarvis, for the most part. I didn't like how she took so much crap off her stepmonster, who had neatly stepped in and stole her inheritance due to her cheap father's refusal to get a lawyer to do his will. The lady pretty much stole her house away, and was using Bevin as an unpaid housekeeper/cleaner. I also wished that she would have communicated more clearly with Jarvis. She gave out a lot of mixed signals. Thankfully, he was a gentleman and didn't take advantage of her, although he easily could have. He was a genuinely nice guy, and I appreciated that about him. Not too many people would have taken a sick stranger home to their house and nursed her back to health, expecting nothing in return, although he did appreciate her cooking when she was on the mend.

This was a short, entertaining read, although a little on the dry side. It's definitely a sweet/"both feet on the floor" romance, which has an appeal nowawadays if a reader feels oversaturated with too much "nookie" in romance. For readers who have to have "nookie", I'd recommend skipping this one. I liked the charm of the very British elements, so I'll probably keep it for those reasons.

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In McGillivray's Bed by Anne McCallister

In McGillivray's Bed: The McGillivrays of Pelican Cay (Presents)In McGillivray's Bed: The McGillivrays of Pelican Cay by Anne McAllister

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those books that reminds me why I read category (Harlequin/Silhouette) romances. It was a quick, good, light breath of fresh air romance read. The author managed to tell an involving love story that I could read in a couple hours and feel that I got my money's worth, without sacrificing character depth.

Sydney is running away from her life as her executive father's dogsbody and protege, especially when she is expected to marry the CEO of his electronics company aboard a cruise. She jumps into the ocean and ends up getting reeled in by a scruffy fisherman. It turns out the fisherman is actually Hugh McGillivray, who is former Navy man, and now tries to live as laid back a life as possible.

Hugh didn't expect to catch a woman when he was fishing on his day off. Little does he know how much this woman will change his life. He thought he wanted to continue his carefree bachelor ways, but Sydney brings organization and light into his life, filling the hole that was left when his long-time unrequited love reunites with and marries the father of her daughter. He's played the field and enjoyed his bachelorhood since then, ignoring his deep desire for a wife and family. Hugh can't help falling for Sydney, but he knows this executive daughter will eventually get bored with island life and him. He doesn't believe that Sydney is determined to stay. Sydney wants everything that Hugh has to offer, but his resistance makes her think he doesn't have the capacity to love her, even if he does have a reluctant desire for her.

I enjoyed this book a lot. I thought Hugh and Sydney had great chemistry. I liked how Sydney was very orderly and organized. She turned Hugh's chaotic bungalow into a cheery home, and turned her financial and business know-how on the local businesses and community. Sydney seemed to know her mind, and what she wanted out of life, even if it was very different from her previous world. Hugh's fears about not being good enough for Sydney felt realistic, considering that he had spent years in love with a friend who didn't love him back. He was a very nice guy, and Sydney was a nice woman. This is a couple whose love story that I had the pleasure of seeing come to fruition.

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Hotter Than Hell by Various Authors

Hotter Than HellHotter Than Hell by Kim Harrison

I love reading anthologies, so I never really got why a lot of romance readers don't care much for anthologies. Well, I tend to read fantasy and horror anthologies for the most part. This is probably one of the first bigger romance ones I've read. I get it now! It gets pretty dull to read sex scene after sex scene. The only thing that broke the monotony were the paranormal elements, and seeing how each author created a story out of that starting point. Some authors did a better job than others of engaging me. Overall, I would say I'm leaning towards being mildly disappointed with this anthology, but it's really for the reasons of what appeals to me. I love romance. I love the tension and the emotion of seeing a couple meet, fall in love, and decide they want to spend their lives together. It's kind of hard to do that in a very short story, especially the ones that are supposed to be very steamy. I either ended up feeling like the couples had some hot chemistry, but not really buying the true love, or wanting more because things ended too quickly. In general, the stories that leaned towards urban fantasy made more of an impression on me, because the focus was on the plot and the worldbuilding.

I'll give a basic recap of my feelings on the stories.

"Music Hath Charms" by Tanya Huff. Quite interesting. Not a romance. More of a sexy urban fantasy story. I wanted a different ending than the one I got, but I'd give it four stars because she used the Greek sirens myth to such good effect.

"Minotaur in Stone" by Marjorie Liu. I absolutely loved this story. It shows the potential of a well-done paranormal romantic short story. All the mythic aspects, the longing, the feeling of a couple falling for each other and striving for their happy ending. It was unique and really took a different spin on the Greek minotaur myth. What a joy to read. Five stars.

"Demon Lover" by Cheyenne McCray. I have mixed feelings about this story. I thought the use of incubus lore was well done. The language was too raunchy for me and it was too focused on the sex acts. However, I have to admit this was a romantic story at its heart. The theme of self-sacrifice moved me. More than anything, I don't go for this kind of steam level, I think. Readers who like more erotic fare would enjoy this one more than I did. 4 stars.

"Equinox" by LA Banks. I've found I tend to enjoy LA Banks' short stories very much. But, I think this is my least favorite. It didn't quite come together very well. I couldn't tell if she was going for a humorous tone or not. I liked the concept, Artemis coming to the modern world with her nymphs to punish those who destroyed the environment. She drew in the story of Artemis and Acteon, the human she changed into a stag for watching her bathe naked, and shot full of arrows as punishment. In this case, she changed executives of companies that were raping the environment into stags. It was a very good idea. I liked the hero, who was a special forces guy. It was great seeing black characters in this setting. Who said Artemis couldn't be Black? Kudos for that. This story had a lot going for it, but it just felt a little unpolished and hurried in the execution. All and all, I'd say this was a four star story.

"Ride a Dark Horse" by Susan Krinard. Being horse-mad, I did appreciate that aspect of this story. However, it felt kind of ho-hum, like a hundred other paranormal romances. The ending was a bit rushed as well. Three stars.

"To Die For" by Keri Arthur. I could see readers loving this story. I liked the horrific/dark fantasy elements. I didn't think it was romantic. It was more of a "we're hot for each other and have been for a while, so let's see where this is going" kind of execution. I don't like the whole HFN thing, so that left me cold. Plus the love scenes seemed disruptive in the sense that they were in the middle of finding their boss's missing nephew and hunting a very scary, evil killer. The sex interludes seemed unwise and disruptive. Ms. Arthur is a good writer, and it was a pretty scary story, so I'd give it a four stars on those terms, even though it failed as a romance for me.

"Curse of the Dragon's Tears" by Heidi Betts really left me with a blah feeling. I think her writing doesn't work for me. It was very standard paranormal romance story with cursed hero and heroine determined to save him with her love/lust. Let's have lots of hot sex and maybe we can figure out how to reverse the curse. It didn't do much for me. 3 stars.

"Brother's Keeper" by Lilith Saintcrow. This is my first story by this author, and I like her imagination. This story had very hot chemistry, and it was dark and kind of disturbing. The only thing that made the execution flawed was the internal monologue of the heroine. Selene would talk to herself in her head, and because it was 3rd person, it just seemed intrusive. I really think this should have been a 1st person story. I loved Nikolai. He was yummy! I'd like to read more of these characters. 4 stars.

"(Like a) Virgin of the Spring" by Susan Sizemore and Denise Little. Great premise muddied down by too much sex. Pretty cool how they worked time travelers into the King Arthur lore. I think if there was less sex and more story, this would have been close to five stars. As it was, more of a 3.5 star story.

"Life is the Teacher" by Carrie Vaughn. This woman can write. She took the paranormal premise and created a literary feel to this story that sucked me in. Emma's a fledgling vampire who is going on her first hunt. You feel all her sadness, the impasse she faces as she confronts her old life, where she doesn't belong anymore, and embarking on a new life as a creature of the night. It was poignant and also evocative. The sensuality was well-incorporated and fit the mood of this story about Emma's awakening to her life as a vampire. 4.5 stars.

"Moonlight Becomes You" by Linda Winstead Jones. This story had a humorous element, as a young woman investigates her neighbor, who she believes to be a vampire. It helps that he's sexy, and seems interested in her. I liked the twist in this story. 4 stars.

"Dirty Magic" by Kim Harrison was a beautiful, yet disturbing story. Mia the Banshee deals with her forbidden love for a young musician. His love is an irresistible lure to a creature who is drawn to and who feeds off the emotions of humans. I didn't really like the way this ended, but it was superbly-written. 4 stars.

I was tired after finishing this volume. I definitely needed a break from the paranormal sex motif. As I do with most anthologies, this would have worked better if I read it on and off. But, reading the stories back to back made some of the lesser-involving ones a chore to read.

Overall rating: 4 stars. Nothing truly bad, just some that didn't work for me. Marjorie Liu's story definitely was the shining star in this collection.

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Shades of Midnight by Lara Adrian

Shades of Midnight (Midnight Breed, #7)Shades of Midnight by Lara Adrian

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Nicely done, Ms. Adrian. This was a very good book. Kade turned out to be a real sweetie under that hardcore, ice-cold warrior facade. He was very tortured by the double whammy of his brother's killer predilection and the fear that he'd be the same. Even though he was living a life of fighting with the Order and partying hard off-duty with human women to get his blood fix, deep down, I think he wanted a woman for his own mate the whole time.

When he met Alexandra, it clicked. And it was the same for Alex. This book turned out to be surprisingly romantic. I didn't expect that. But, I've found that this series is getting more and more along the lines of what I like in a paranormal romance, although it also a gritty action-filled series. I love a good action story with a great romance, so I'm pretty happy!

The setting was very good. Since I love cold weather and it's hot as blazes here in Texas, I enjoyed reading this book set in the frigid arctic Alaskan tundra. I wanted to switch places with Alex (for numerous reasons--except for the psycho blood-thirsty killer parts).

I actually felt kind of sorry for the Ancient. I know, soft touch here. Imagine being stranded on a planet, having been kept prisoner and escaping finally, to be completely out of your element and time? Hunted by your enemies with no one to turn to. Part of me wonders if he will re-emerge. What's the whole deal with Jenna? What did the Ancient do to her?

Could I be crushing harder on Tegan? I love the man. I was very happy that he turned up in this book so I could drool over him. I'm also loving Hunter. That is one bad.... well, you know what I mean. I cannot wait for his book. I'm seeing more aspects of Brock (loyal, protective, good-hearted), and I think his book is going to be very good. I wonder if Chase isn't going to implode any time soon. He's acting pretty weird.

Shades of Midnight was fast-paced but there was a satisfying core of emotional elements. There was the intensity of the love between Alex and Kade that developed quickly but was definitely real and lasting, and the treatment of family in how Kade had to walk away from his for his own sanity, and how Alex had lost hers in very tragic ways. The power of the bond between the Order, and how it became the anchor that Kade needed after he was left adrift when he walked away from his family in Alaska, and his troubled twin brother. Also, seeing some element of human emotion in the Ancient, who had seemed only to be a creature capable of violence prior to this book. I loved Kade's ability to communicate with animals, and how he connected to the wolves. The message about not wantonly slaughtering the wolves because they were suspected to be killing people was timely. Wolves have just now been reintroduced into many natural places in North America. They are a vital part of the ecosystem and are gorgeous, fascinating animals to me. So, I was all on board with protecting the wolves like Alex was. And then there was Alex's lovely wolf-hybrid dog, Luna. What a great companion.

If I had one complaint, I wish that Alex's Breedmate talent was more developed. It seemed like a bit of an afterthought. Otherwise, I was pretty satisfied with this book.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Gilded Web by Mary Balogh

The Gilded Web (Web, #1)The Gilded Web by Mary Balogh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Gilded Web is a very thoughtful, character-driven romantic story. As typical for Mary Balogh, she turns a keen eye on the interpersonal relationships of the characters in this novel. Although the main focus is on the unfolding relationship between Edmund and Alexandra, she also delves into their relationships with their brothers and sister, and how each one of these secondary characters relate to other people.

Alexandra is a very complex, and sometimes unlikeable character. Part of me really understood where she was coming from. She'd been completely repressed by her overbearing, domineering, religious zealot of a father. He had suppressed much of her personality to the point that she appeared robotic and blank to others, including Edmund, for a significant portion of this book. The truth was, she had a very profound stew of emotions that she didn't know how to deal with. I really did sympathize with her, but she started annoying me towards the end. The message about woman having control over lives is an important one, and a message that hits home with me. However, her decision to break the engagement and go out into the world on her own as a governess so that she could experience some nebulous idea of 'freedom' struck me as immensely foolhardy, especially when Edmund was really the idea man for her. He was all about freedom and respect. From the beginning, he tried to make sure that she was happy and her needs were met. She always interpreted his attempts to take care of her as some sort of control attempt on his part. She was kind of clueless in that regard. Had this book ended differently, it probably would have been a wall-banger for the behaviors that Alexandra insisted upon. She had effectively made Edmund her punching bag, instead of dealing with her father and being honest with him and standing strong. I realize how hard that must be, but transference upon Edmund, who showed her nothing but caring, acceptance and love, was ridiculous. In the end, I was satisfied that she finally got a clue. It almost took a frying pan knock to her thick skull though. Frankly, I don't think Alexandra's healing is done yet. I feel that Alexandra needs to work through her issues and learn to find her way and establish herself within the framework that her society allows her. She was naive about the world, and she didn't realize that the world was a very scary place for women without the protection of their family and men, even though that's a hard pill for a modern woman to swallow. It truly was better to be in a loving marriage with a protective husband who was willing to give her as much freedom as she needed, than to live a lonely, unprotected life as a governess. I think she'll come to realize how better off she will be as Edmund's wife.

Edmund was a delightful character. He is the kind of person who is self-sacrificing to the extreme. He put his own life on the backburner to take care of his family. When his brother Dominic inadvertently ruins Alexandra, he steps up to offer to marry her. Every action he took showed with a good man he was. I don't think a woman could ask for a better future spouse. I do realize that he had to learn to make sure that his needs were met and to be honest about what he wanted. Although Alexandra really annoyed me with her actions, some good came out of in that he was able to open up and be less private and tell her how much she meant to him.

The secondary stories were pretty interesting, especially James Parnell and his complicated relationship with Madeline, who is Edmund's sister. Their story continues in The Devil's Web. I confess I am very eager to read that one soon. James is a very dark, somewhat emotionally-dangerous character. He is so full of anger and rage. His heart was broken by his father's actions, and he is dead in some ways because of what he's lost. My heart really connected to him. I didn't like how cruel he was to Madeline, though. Madeline seems like a flighty, shallow flirt, but she wasn't really. She was just a happy person who took being unconditionally loved for granted. But, with maturity, it was clear that she'd put shallow tendencies behind her and become a deeper woman, with a huge capacity for love. It's pretty clear that these two will have an intense story.

Dominic, Edmund's younger brother, and his desire to join up with the army for the war against Napoleon, contrasted with his tendency to fall in love every week was a lighter aspect of this story. Sometimes I wanted to tell him to grow up, but he's pretty young. He had a good heart, and I'm looking forward to seeing him as a mature man.

The Gilded Web was a thought-, and emotion-provoking read. I felt some degree of frustration with Alexandra that made it less likely to be a favorite of mine. But it shows the usual complex and not always comfortable, intense emotional depths that I have come to associate with Mary Balogh's writing. I think that readers who enjoy Regency romance along the lines of Jane Austen would enjoy this story.

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Storm Born by Richelle Mead

Storm Born (Dark Swan, #1)Storm Born by Richelle Mead

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one book that I have mixed feelings about. There were some aspects I really liked...and some, not so much.

I'll go into the negatives first:

Quite frankly, this book read like Eugenie's Adventures in Paranormal Dating to me. I am just not a fan of chick-lit, and that whole aspect was sort of a turn off to me. I felt that there was too much emphasis on Eugenie's sex/dating life, and her status as a highly sought-after sex partner, for whatever reason. That left me cold. In theory, it was interesting to delve into Eugenie's secret heritage as the Storm King's daughter, but for the focus to be on who could get her pregnant and who wanted to have sex with her so often seemed to limit her importance as a whole person. Also, I wasn't really comfortable with the fact that she was having relationships, or should I say, sexual relations with two different men in this book, and the interval wasn't that far apart. I know that life happens, and people drift apart. And this is real life for a lot of women to be in these kinds of relationships, but it's not something I prefer to read about. Her choices don't make sense, and don't seem very rational to me. She had gotten burned by jumping into intimacy so fast with Kiyo, it seemed to me to be foolhardy to have sex with Dorian so soon. And she would have had sex with Dorian sooner if she didn't have her issues with the gentry (faerie). I am very torn about this, because I liked Kiyo and Dorian very much, and I could certainly see the appeal. I think I would have liked it better if she had kept things at the flirting level with one of the guys, and explored a sexual relationship with the other in a different book. I've been called a prude, but I won't make any apologies for how I process things.

My other big issue was there was a little too much showing and not telling. As a big action fan, I like to see the action sequences show a lot of intensity. I didn't feel that way with a lot of the ones in this book. I felt like it was a bit too static. A good action scene puts the reader into the story, and that didn't happen to me with many of the ones in this book.

My last issue was the over-inflated importance of Eugenie, almost from the beginning. It was too much for me. She was the strongest, and most powerful, and she could kick some serious butt, and everyone in the Otherworld was afraid of her. I would have liked it better if this was shown to me through the unfolding plot, as opposed to pre-assumed. I think it would have made this book pop a lot more if I got to see how kick-butt Eugenie was without the editorial, and it raised questions for me why she was so freaking badass. Then, when I found out she was the Storm King's daughter, I would have been like, no wonder.

What I liked:

I loved the concept of the Faerie otherworld. Big fae fan here. I really got a kick out of all the kingdoms and the denizens within. Faerie is so interesting to me, with the complexity of character-dark and light. They are not so easily categorized as good or evil. That appeals to me as a reader, because their actions are by nature unpredictable and fascinating.

I think the use of various mythological creatures from different cultures was pretty awesome. I love it when I read a book and it encourages me to go and look up a creature that I'm not familiar with, such as the fachan, a Celtic creature who resembles a hairy cyclops.

Eugenie's shaman abilities were interesting. I think there could have been more impact if there was more showing here as well. I felt somewhat disconnected as the narrative explored how Eugenie opened up the portals to the Otherworld and to the land of the dead. But overall, I liked the idea.

Dorian really got my attention. Something about him just appealed, big time. I'm leaning towards Eugenie choosing him. He has this enigmatic, refined, but dark depth aspect that is calling my name. I like the way he lays his cards on the table with Eugenie and treats her as his equal. He's honest about who he is, so I don't see him resorting to treachery to get what he wants from Eugenia. I respected that about him.

Kiyo was also a nice love interest. There's something about him that doesn't click with me, which surprises me, since I love that he's a Japanese kitsune fox-shifter and that his father is Mexican. And he's a veterinarian. I love how he will protect Eugenie, no matter what. He's clearly crazy about her. He might be a little too eager for me. Maybe that's what it is.

All in all: This was a pretty good book. I had some issues with the focus of the story. I will admit I don't like urban fantasy where the main plot emphasis is on sex, and this book falls in that category. For what it was, I was drawn in and I enjoyed reading it. Despite the major-ish flaws, it was still a strong read, hence the four star rating. I have to see where this story goes, but I really hope Thorn Queen doesn't have Eugenie going back and forth between both men sexually, and horrors, doesn't introduce yet another sex partner. I might have to jump ship then.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

To the Edge by Cindy Gerard

To the Edge (Bodyguard, #1)To the Edge by Cindy Gerard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been kind of ho-hum about romantic suspense with no paranormal lately. I haven't been willing to take a dive into many of the newer authors out there, or some of the older faves. I'm glad that Shawna recommended for me to start the Cindy Gerard books. This was a very good book.

I just adored Nolan. He a well-structured, complex character: rugged, gorgeous, competent, humorous, down-to-earth, and tortured. The barriers that he erected against Jillian made a lot of sense. He knew that he couldn't have a permanent place in her life, and his troubles from his time in the Rangers and his friend's suicide were a heavy weight on his shoulders.

I liked Jillian a lot. At first, she had this facade of perfect, pampered, upscale, news anchor that didn't work for me. But, underneath, she was a whole lot more. Jillian was her own woman. She worked hard to get where she was in life, fighting to get away from the gilded cage and cloyingly overprotective and domineering family life she'd endured. Because of a lifetime of being the rich girl who was a target for kidnappers with no privacy and very few real people in her life, she'd had to build up a strong barrier of protection against others. She ended up earning my respect in a big way.

When Nolan is hired as her bodyguard, she doesn't like him, because he's mean and disrespectful to her. He reminds her of the bodyguards she grew up with, who never treated her as a person, only her rich father's daughter. But, she's also extremely attracted to him. She sees and is drawn to the sad lone warrior, wanting to know him as a person, even though Nolan makes this very hard. I was glad that she was willing to fight for him.

The sexual tension was great in this story. The build-up makes you think this will be an early to bed book, but fortunately it isn't. I was glad to see the emotional connection form between this couple and culminate in their love-making, instead of the other way around. By the time they get together, you know that there is love between them.

Good suspense and action in this story. I prefer a military storyline, but this was pretty good, because Nolan knows how to handle himself, and Jillian is in some pretty intense situations with her stalker. The underlying mystery actually surprised me. She really had me going with the red herrings. You know who one of the culprits is pretty soon, but it takes until the end of the book to find out who's pulling the strings. That was very well-executed.

To The Edge turned out to be a read well worth my time. I'm looking forward to reading the other Bodyguards books, after meeting Nolan's brothers and sisters in this story. Thanks, Shawna!

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Upon a Midnight Clear by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Upon The Midnight Clear (Dark-Hunter/Dream-Hunter, #14)Upon The Midnight Clear by Sherrilyn Kenyon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I felt like there was something missing from this book. I liked it, but I think it could have been better. The storytelling seemed basic--not something I'm used to with Ms. Kenyon. I get that this was supposed to be short story, but it was a little too barebones for me. The characters (other than Aidan) just didn't seem to come to life for me, which is atypical for a Sherrilyn Kenyon story. My biggest issue is the short length. I think that keeping this short really restricted the complexity of this story, and it really did need more depth. I think this would have been a great novella, but it falls short of greatness as a novella, unfortunately.

What I liked:

*Aidan was a good hero. I could see why he was so bitter and sad. He'd been let down by people he was supposed to trust, people he'd do just about anything for. It was interesting that he was a movie star, what that entailed. I did appreciate how Ms. Kenyon wrote about the negative aspects of fame, although Aidan always had a good head on his shoulders. If he was a real guy, he'd be a movie star I'd respect as a person. I would love to see that movie Alabaster, that he was in. It sounds good.
*Leta was good too, although I thought that I could have used more elaboration about her backstory. It was a nice change for the heroine to be the one driven by vengeance.
*There was a good romance here, although I needed more depth to be great.
*It was good to see Deimos again. I liked him in The Dream Hunter. Hope he shows up again.
*I liked how we got to see various people who we've met in the Dark-Hunter world celebrate Christmas. It brought back some happy memories of reading their stories, and made me eager to read the following books in this series.
*I loved the fantastical elements, especially the worlds that Lyssa created. Very freaky and weird. Nice touch.

I think every author has a book that's not so great. Unfortunately, this is probably the one I'd name for Ms. Kenyon. I think she's a very talented author, and I enjoy reading her books. I just needed a richer longer book for this one to shine as brightly as it could have.

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Friday, August 13, 2010

Ashes of Midnight by Lara Adrian

Ashes of Midnight (Midnight Breed, #6)Ashes of Midnight by Lara Adrian

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Well, I must say I was very pleasantly surprised with Ashes of Midnight. Because I have had a crush on Andreas for a while, I've been looking forward to this book, although this seems to be a least favorite of a lot of fans of this series. Veil of Midnight ended with things in an abysmal place for Andreas. His whole family was wiped out through an act of his enemy, Wilhelm Roth, who is highly placed in the Enforcement Agency. This book begins in medias res of Andreas' brutal quest for vengeance. Andreas has the gift of summoning fire, and he uses it to devastating effect against his enemies. It's only a matter of time when his former love, Claire, ends up in his path. She's the breedmate (term for a wife/life-partner in the vampire world) to his enemy, and has been for thirty years. He left her because of his problem with the uncontrollable fire that wells from deep within him, and when he returned, she was married to Roth. Since then, he's stayed away, and lived the life of a playboy and leader of his Darkhaven in Berlin. But all that was taken away from him by Roth.

Andreas is a man driven by vengeance. The only thing that penetrates this thirst is the love he felt for Claire, which never faded. It puts him in an impossible position, because he won't give up his determination to kill Roth, even if Claire begs him to. Although I didn't always agree with the choices that Andreas made, I could see why he made them. That gave me a level of understanding for his actions. He was truly in a bad place. His gift of firestarting had unwittingly caused him to do something that haunted him with guilt, and he knew that every time he summoned fire, his ability to control this devastating force lessened, and his bloodlust got stronger. Even though he was murdering his enemies in a very brutal fashion, at heart, I could see that he was a good man. He'd just been driven over the edge by his enemy's actions. And he harbored no illusions that his own choices would lead to his own demise. His goal was to destroy Roth, even at the cost of his own life.

I actually ended up liking Claire quite a bit. Marrying Roth was a bad decision on her part, but with Andreas gone and her all alone in the world, she clung to Roth as her only security. She paid dearly for that, trapped in an loveless marriage for thirty years. When Andreas turns up again, she is faced with the horrible conflict of being between the man she loves and the man she owes her loyalty to. Although I thought she was a bit too trusting of Roth initially, I could see why. Claire was a very honorable, loyal person. She made vows and she wanted to keep them. Too bad she made them to the wrong man. That was clear, because she felt the same intense love for Andreas she had felt so many years before, even though he comes back into her life as a violent, enraged, and dangerous man. She's a gentle, but strong person. Her loyalty and steadfast love is the only thing that has the power to save Andreas.

The adventure in this story was really good. I loved the concept of Andreas having the gift of fire. It was very cool and cinematic. And kind of intimidating. He was literally so hot, he could incinerate anything that came near him. He could summon fireballs and make things explode. Very cool. I also liked that his gift had a cost to him. It was getting out of control, and it summoned an insatiable lust for blood. The conflict built to a very good climax, and I was very satisfied with the resolution (which has not been the case with most of the other books).

I thought the love between Andreas and Claire was very apparent. This book was also pretty steamy. Although I don't like adultery in books (to me Claire was married in every sense of the word, even though vampire marriage is different), I felt that they were in a tough situation, and Roth had manipulated both of them, giving them little choices in the matter. I didn't like the idea of Claire being blood-bonded to another man when I heard about this book, but I think Ms. Adrian handled it pretty well. It was clear that Andreas and Claire belonged together, and their bond was a much more powerful one than the bond with Roth.

Ashes of Midnight turned out to be my favorite in this series so far. I think that everything was pretty well done, and Ms. Adrian took one of my least favorite concepts (reunited lovers) and made a very good read with it. She has a good feel for mood and tone. Her writing is clear and strong, telling a fast-moving, interesting story in this book. I felt the urgency of the situation that the Order faces. The threat of the crooked politicians in the Enforcement Agency and the nefarious plans of Dragos. Things are culminating to a very dangerous confrontation with each book. I realized that I don't like all the foul language in this series, but I try to overlook it. I think that it ties into the dark, gritty vibe that Ms. Adrian is going for (even if it causes me more than a few winces when I read). This series just gets better and better in its execution. She tied everything together from the past books very well. It was good to see all the Breed warriors and their mates. I love how Renata fights with the men. She rocks! I think Ms. Adrian does a good job of integrating and involving the breedmates into the work of the Order, making them more than just chess pieces after their book is over. I respect her for that. I am excited to see where things go with the storyline. I look forward to reading Kade, Brock, Chase, and Hunter's stories.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Water Bound by Christine Feehan

Water Bound (Sisters of the Heart, #1)Water Bound by Christine Feehan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ms. Feehan, you've done it again. This is now one of my favorites by you.

This was such a beautiful, gorgeous book. Ms. Feehan's descriptive writing brings things to vivid, lush, captivating life. Seeing the world through Rikki's eyes was like nothing I've seen. People tend to think of autism as a liability. It does make it harder to integrate into the usual world. But, being in that place of beauty that belongs only to you, how wonderful that must be. I appreciate Ms. Feehan for the time she took to write this story and open my eyes to Rikki's world.

I've always been a water person, and I felt the affinity and love of water that Rikki felt. Since she was an outcast in many ways, it was good that she had the ocean, the water to be her home, to be her safe place that settled her.

Rikki is probably one of the most special and unique heroines I've encountered. She was created with such love and devotion that I can't help but love her. I liked that she is so complex, and has such a strength to make a life for herself, despite the many obstacles she faced. She knew that Lev had a past as a cold-blooded killer, and was a dangerous man--but she looked into his heart and saw the true man that he was. She was never afraid of him. She was willing to give him a chance to be the man who he yearned to be. She didn't realize that to Lev, she was his chance.

The love story in this book affected me deeply. Rikki and Lev found that connection that I crave in romance novels. The scene where they are under water, and their eyes meet, and it keeps Lev from succumbing to the fierce anger of the ocean. Her eyes anchor him. For the first time in his life, he feels like he has a home. Rikki might disturb or upset others because she doesn't know the social cues, with her piercing black gaze, but she gives him peace when she focuses those eyes on him. The way in which their love story unfolds has won this book a place on my keeper shelf as an all-time favorite romance. The intense love between Lev and Rikki shouts off the page. The sensuality is so powerful, as Rikki and Lev explore that magic that unites them as soulmates. The way that Lev would take care of Rikki, and vice versa. Their humorous exchanges. How they could be real with each other. It all comes together to make an unforgettable love story. Utterly sighworthy! This sappy girl was in heaven.

I loved how Lev didn't try to change Rikki to fit him. He found his place in her life, and adjusted himself to hers. She needed constancy and routine, and he understood that. But he enhanced her life by giving her that emotional bond that she'd never had, even with her fiance. Their love was so mutual and so beautiful. Making something stronger and enduring through their union.

Lev is the dangerous hero fangirl's Christmas gift. But, he's also a gentle, loving man with Rikki. That's my kind of hero--completely lethal, but like a Golden Retriever puppy dog with his woman, unless she's in danger, then he's like an fierce wolf protecting his mate. I never thought I'd love you more than Ilya, Lev. But I do!

I have a feeling I'm going to enjoy this new series by Ms. Feehan. I think that each of Rikki's adopted sisters are interesting. They bring unique gifts and personalities to the table. I like their created bond of family for each other. How they accept each other for who they are. I'm dying to meet more of the Prasenkii brothers. What is it with me and dangerous Russian men?

I appreciated how Ms. Feehan touched on the issue with Lev being on the boat while Elle was being held captive. Jonas did exactly what he should have done. Yet, I could understand why Lev did what he did. He was in a really tough situation. No question there. There's going to be some fallout, but I have a feeling it's going to work out.

I wish that Sea Haven was a real place. I would so move there. It's a happening place with the Drake sisters and spouses, Rikki's adopted family, and the Prasenkiis. Yet another favorite by an author who has won my devotion, book by fantastic book. Thumbs way up!

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicle, #1)The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are just some books that you have no conception of how much you will come to love, until you read the book, and fall in love. That's what happened to me with this book. At 722 pages, I think this is the longest book I've ever read and finished, all the way through. When I read it, the world fell away. The mark of a good book.

I worry about my reviews being too repetitive, and I don't want to mess this one up. So I'll keep it simple.

I would ask this book to marry me, if it was legal to marry a book. If I had to choose a book to take to a desert island, this book would be on my final consideration list. Yes, I am known for my bizarre excitement when it comes to books. They mean so much to me. I may seem like I hype books unnecessarily. It's not the case. But, if a book finds a place on the shelf in my heart, then I do want to rave about it. Such is the case with The Name of the Wind.

If you aren't sure about diving into a 722 page book, take a chance. My game plan was to read it over the month. Hah! I read it in about a week. I was that sucked in. Not sure that your interest will be sustained for over 700 pages? I don't think you'll be disappointed, if you enjoy books with fascinating characters. And Kvothe is definitely fascinating.

This book made me cry, it made me laugh, it made me angry. I got excited, I got frustrated. I was sad when it ended. Yes, even after 722 pages, I wanted more.

I walked the long road that Kvothe walked. I couldn't abandon him. When the book would go from his story narrative and back to the inn where he was telling his story to the Chronicler, I was like, "Wait. I want to hear more." That's the kind of story that Kvothe has. I don't want to suffer the things he did. But, I like the idea of having an epic story of my life to tell someone. That probably won't happen in real life, but there's an identification factor here in this: We were all young, and rich with dreams; we have all cried bitter tears as some of those dreams died painful deaths. Only for new dreams and possiblities to be born. That is what this book shows.

I may add more to this review, because I think I could say more. Right now, I think this will do. I hope you decide to read The Name of the Wind someday.

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Monday, August 09, 2010

Public Scandal, Private Mistress by Susan Napier

Public Scandal, Private Mistress (Harlequin Presents)Public Scandal, Private Mistress by Susan Napier

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It doesn't take much for me to enjoy a Susan Napier book. I think she's a fantastic writer. I like the way she creates her characters. Luc and Veronica were no different. I do want to take exception to the cover, because it doesn't reflect how the characters look. Luc has almost shoulder-length black hair that he keeps in a short ponytail, and Veronica has reddish-brown hair and is very abundantly curved. When I read the book, I ignored the cover, and formed my own image of them.

Luc and Veronica get together on Bastille Day in Paris (a spontaneous decision on normally very cautious Veronica's part), and ended up enjoying a night of steamy passion. Veronica sneaks out of Luc's apartment while he is sleeping, thinking a one-night interlude was all that was in the cards with a sexy Frenchman that she went home with on an uncharacteristic whim. She jumps on her train headed for the South of France, and keeps seeing Luc along the way on her journey. Is he following her? It turns out he thinks she's following him, and she's some sort of paparazzi. He then tells her something extremely rude, which I won't repeat. It floored me a little, since Ms. Napier's heroes are not usually mean like that. A little later on, I found out why he had that reaction, and I forgave him, and so did Veronica. Veronica arrives at her destination, the vacation home of her sister's recently former employers, where she is staying for the remaining time of her holiday. To her surprise, Luc shows up, and it turns out he's the step-son of her sister's employer, Melanie. Veronica's feckless sister decides to ditch her sister (and their planned vacation together) for a chance to do a modeling shoot in the Bahamas, and volunteers Veronica to work for Melanie for her time at their vacation home. Veronica can't really get out of it, since her sister convinced Melanie that she'd be fine with it. So, she's stuck there with her ex-one night stand, who Melanie volunteers to chauffeur her around the area to check out the cuisine on Melanie's behalf (Melanie is a food writer), since she broke her arm and has limited mobility. Veronica is starting a gift-buying business, so that actually works out for her to investigate the local culture and crafts. The only scary part is hanging out with Luc, who she is still very susceptible to. And Luc is more than happy to pick up where they left off. Veronica might have been okay with a one-off one night stand, but she doesn't want to risk her heart on a sex-only affair.

I'll be the first to tell you that I don't particularly care for romances with one night stands or flings. Just not my thing. I don't find it particularly romantic. But, Ms. Napier writes this story so well, I was captivated. The emotions and the connection was there, and you could see that Luc pursuit of Veronica was about more than sex, and Veronica's feelings deeper than just the physical. Ms. Napier's beautifully-descriptive writing took me to the South of France, where the lush heat and surroundings immersed me into the story. I felt the strong attraction between Luc and Veronica, how they might have met casually, but something compelling will keep them together.

I liked that Veronica was a normal kind of woman, like someone you know, with a curvy body that Luc appreciated. And Luc was a sexy nerd who was inventing robots and selling them around the neighborhood as a boy (helping to finance his Oxford education), and is a millionaire in his late twenties, due to his financial savvy. He's very down-to-earth (not to mention sexy) and approachable, which causes him trouble when he gets into a situation with an old flame (who is presently married to a prominent man in the government) that is captured in the tabloids as a very sordid event, which explains his nasty behavior towards Veronica when they first meet again (since he thought she was trying to set him up). Pretty soon, Luc realizes that Veronica is the woman he's been looking for for a long time, and he's going to take measures to make her his.

There were many small, wonderful touches in this book, typical for Susan Napier. I wish she wrote more often, because she writes so well. I'll buy every book she publishes. She didn't let me down with this book. Public Scandal, Private Mistress was a great summer read, very enjoyable and a nice, quick read (a great way to wind down on a very hot Texas summer day).

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Thursday, August 05, 2010

Scandal's Bride by Stephanie Laurens

Scandal's Bride (Cynster, #3)Scandal's Bride by Stephanie Laurens

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I added this book to my All Things Summer Challenge because it's been sitting on my tbr pile for a long time. The few books I've read in the Cynster series were pretty good, but it's not one of my favorite historical series.

Scandal's Bride turned out to be a nice surprise. I was dragged, kicking and screaming, into enjoying this book. I get really bored with Lord Rake who finds himself reluctantly drawn into marriage-type storylines, and the Cynster series is ripe with those. And, Catriona wouldn't be my ideal choice of a heroine. But, I was pleasantly surprised.

I ended up liking Richard, aka "Scandal", quite a bit. I vaguely remember liking him in the other Cynster books, but that was years ago. His past rakish deeds aren't really rubbed in my face, so that helps. I like that he wasn't extremely averse to marrying Catriona, if that got her in his arms. He's actually a pretty nice guy, smart, and kind. He was willing to play second fiddle as the consort to Catriona, who is the official lady of her lands. He was open minded about Catriona's religion, which involves worship of The Lady. I really respected him for being a strong, dominant man who was able to take on that kind of role, and do it with grace, because that was what being with the woman he loved entailed.

At times, Catriona was a bit too arrogant for my tastes. I do realize that it was a necessity to be so, with all the responsibilities she held. She started growing on me pretty fast. By the end of the book, I liked her quite a bit.

The whole aspect of neither wanting to reveal the strength of their feelings for each other really got to me. I could feel the pain on both sides. Catriona didn't want to hold Richard hostage in her valley, if he wanted to go to London with his family; Richard felt like he didn't matter and wasn't important to Catriona. All he needed was for her to say so. I thought my heart would break when he got ready to leave. Fortunately, he comes to his senses.

This book has a lot of steamy scenes--which seems to be Ms. Laurens' writing style. Overall, I liked them. I didn't really need that many, but no biggie. I could feel the connection between Richard and Catriona, so it wasn't just unnecessary sex filler to me. Thus, they didn't get into the way of the storyline--they fit this novel.

I think this book was a trifle too long. I started thinking, "Is this book going to be over yet?" A significant portion was spent on seeing the Cynster family interacting when they come to visit, and a lot of "Cynster males do this, and Cynster females do that." It was almost a little bit much. Not quite though. I think I have to be in the mood for this sort of book, and it went down easy, since it made the time pass in an enjoyable fashion.

In short, this was a good read. I think it's a weak four due to the somewhat excessive length, and the whole eye-rolling aspects of the Cynsters do this and the Cynsters do that. The suspense plot wasn't that compelling, but I don't really read historical romance for mystery/suspense. In fact, it can be somewhat disruptive. What helped this book was the fact that Richard was a very appealing hero. He's a man that is able to compromise without feeling like that makes him less of a man. I really liked that about him. I liked seeing the family interactions of Catriona's people. Inside, there is a farmer/rancher/live-off-the-land girl in me, so I like reading those kinds of settings in books. This was a book I enjoyed even more than I expected. For that reason, I'd recommend it to a reader in the mood for this sort of thing.

Content warning: Catriona drugs Richard so she can have sex with him to conceive a child. Some readers might see that as a form of rape.

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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Tender Texan by Jodi Thomas

The Tender TexanThe Tender Texan by Jodi Thomas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you enjoy an old school western romance, this is a book you will like. The Tender Texan has both a hero and heroine who are survivors. They both have suffered tragedy and turmoil in their short lives. I absolutely adored Chance. He is a true, tough, fierce Texan, but he was also so loving and caring towards Anna. Jodi Thomas knows how to write absolutely scrumptious heroes--both incredibly loving and tender, but also formidable western heroes who know how to handle themselves and to take care of their women.

Chance has moved up near the top of my list. He's probably #3 now, #1 being Carter from The Texan's Wager, and #2 being Winter McQuillen from Two Texas Hearts. Chance lost his family in a renegade Indian attack, all except for his infant sister. His goal has been to make enough money to pay for the care of his sister. When Anna Meyer approaches his cattle campsite and asks for a man who is willing to marry her for a year, he offers himself, even though he's only nineteen years old. That's the kind of man Chance is. He might be young in years, but he's a fully grown man who knows how to handle himself and take care of his own, and he does that and more for Anna. Chance falls hard and soon for Anna, despite the fact that he's spent more time around cattle than women. He dreams of making love with his wife, making her his first and only woman, but he has to get past the wall around her heart first.

Anna frustrated me terribly at times. I did understand her issues, having been raped by her husband, and taken advantage and mentally/verbally abused by her mother. Yet, she wasn't able or willing to give Chance the opportunity to prove that he would be a good husband that she could love. The frustration I felt towards her couldn't be a mere fraction of what Chance felt. She craved his closeness, and was attracted to him, but her past had showed that a man couldn't give her anything but pain and humiliation, and that she was foolish to trust anyone or learn to depend on them. It was sad to read, because they both deserved better. Although Chance was the kind of man no one took for granted, because he was more than able to take care of himself; he had nothing on Anna. She is incredibly stubborn. I think that's a good thing. She couldn't have survived the tribulations she went through otherwise. Anna's not going to be a meek wife. She'll keep Chance on his toes. But, it's more than clear that he wants no other woman than her.

Although there isn't quite as much action in this story as some of Jodi Thomas' books, the depictions of the harsh journey that the German immigrants (including Anna) have to take from the Gulf Coast to their lands in New Braunfels are full of dangers--mainly from sickness and disease. I was actually glad that there wasn't a lot of Settler-Indian conflict in this book--that just breaks my heart. I liked that Ms. Thomas made it clear that not all Indians were violent towards the settlers. Chance has an issue with an Indian that killed his family, but he's not out to kill them all--he's actually friendly with various groups.

I like how Jodi Thomas shows humanity in all its forms. Her down-to-earth way of writing characters really speaks to me. I like her humor, a welcome counterpoint to the inherent danger and sadness of a life on the frontier.

It was good to immerse myself back into another fantastic romance by a dependably wonderful writer in the western romance genre. Definitely recommended.

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