Sunday, December 18, 2011

Review: "Glass Houses" by Anne Stuart

Glass Houses (American Romance, 311)Glass Houses by Anne Stuart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What can I say? This was another winner by Anne Stuart, who's quickly become my all-time favorite HQ author. Okay, I know she doesn't write for HQ anymore, but I've only discovered her recently so her "oldies" are all "newbies" to me. This was "only" my tenth book by her, and I couldn't be happier knowing there's still a lot of books to read considering how huge her backlist is.

Glass Houses is one of those stories about a couple who love to hate - or hate to love - each other. This kind of plot is fairly common in Romancelandia, but trust Ms. Stuart to deliver something that's entertaining, sometimes funny, sometimes intriguing, and always romantic.

Billionaire Michael Dubrovnik wants to buy the Glass House, an old glass building owned by Laura de Kelsey Winston, so he can tear it down and build his own Dubrovnik Plaza, a new, gigantic, modern building that will put the Trump Plaza to shame. He's already bought all the old properties surrounding the Glass House, so the only thing preventing him from starting the construction of his multi-million dollar dream building is Laura. The stubborn woman isn't willing to sell the Glass House and has refused every single buying offer he's made. Michael hasn't become a billionaire by taking no for an answer, so when his lawyer tells him his latest and more than generous offer was rebuffed - again! -, he knows it's time he changed tactics. If the woman wants war, he's more than happy to oblige.

Laura loves her Glass House, which was built by her grandfather, and the last thing she wants is to see it on the ground. She knows the old building needs some heavy maintenance and she doesn't have the money to do all of it, but she's not about to sell it to Michael and let him destroy her grandfather's work. The ruthless man needs to know that he can't always have everything he wants, and she's just the woman to enlighten him. And so it begins, the battle between Michael and Laura that ends up shaking more than the Glass House building foundation. ;)

I really loved Michael and Laura's interactions. They were both stubborn but smart, and it was funny to try and guess what they were willing to do to win their private "war". I thought he went a little too far near the end and I was afraid she wouldn't be able to forgive him, but he made up for it in a very big and sweet way.

There was a secondary love story involving Laura's assistant and one of her clients but, quite frankly, I didn't care much for it. It was nice, but I wanted to read more about Michael and Laura, their witty banter, smoldering kisses and scorching love scenes.

There was also a somewhat weak mystery involving blackmail attempts against almost all the characters in the story. Again, I didn't think it added much to the story because it was pretty obvious who the blackmailer was. The only good thing that came out of this blackmailing business was a very hot scene between Michael and Laura while they were waiting to catch the blackmailer "with his/her hands in the cookie jar", so to speak. ;)

All things considered, this was a very entertaining and worth-reading book by Ms. Stuart.

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Review: "Secret Santa" by Janelle Denison, Isabel Sharpe, Jennifer LaBrecque

Secret Santa (Anthology) (Harlequin Blaze, #292)Secret Santa (Anthology) by Janelle Denison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This anthology contains 3 loosely related short stories: all the H/h work for Connoisseur, a food and travel magazine, and the stories take place during the week before Christmas and kick off with the Secret Santa played in the office. There's no need to read the stories in any particular order - or even read all of them, for that matter.

He'd Better Watch Out by Janelle Denison (4 stars)

Nice H/h with good chemistry and interesting plot with a touch of humor. There wasn't a definite HEA but that was good considering the whole story lasted only a week. It would have been completely unbelievable to have the H/h making wedding plans in such short time. On a side note: I don't know how the hero managed to keep his job after being caught in flagrante delicto with a co-worker in the boardroom; maybe the heroine's father (his boss) was more liberal than the average employer.

The Nights Before Christmas by Isabel Sharpe (2 stars)

The hero was bland, the heroine was a stammering idiot, the secondary characters (her two friends) were annoying, the plot was unbelievable and I didn't like the author's writing - she took forever to give the readers an insight into the hero's mind, which wasn't a smart move considering how short the story was.

Mistletoe Madness by Jennifer Labrecque (5 stars)

Charming, sweet and funny H/h and well-developed plot that kept a smile on my face the whole time while I was reading this story. The HEA was completely believable considering how the H/h had known each other and had been skirting around a love/hate relationship (aka foreplay) for some years.

I'm giving this book an overal 4-star rating for the first and the last story only, as I've already erased the second one from my mind.

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Monday, December 12, 2011

Review: "Christmas to Remember" by Annie Windsor

Christmas to RememberChristmas to Remember by Annie Windsor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Are you ready for Christmas yet? If you're not, this quickie might get you in the spirit to celebrate the Holidays.

Being an EC quickie, this was a hot read - of course - but the love scene (yes, singular) didn't take over the sweet, feel-good, Christmas-y theme of the story. I saw the ending coming miles away, but that didn't prevent me from enjoying this read and I finished it with a smile on my face.

Adorable hero + lovely heroine + the magic of Christmas = fun read.

Note: The book description is a bit misleading. The mention of sex toys made me think this quickie would be full of kinky love scenes, but the one love scene featured in the story was almost vanilla. It was hot, but pretty standard for an erotica/romantica read. There was no "backdoor loving", no spanking and no "crazy" sexcapades. Oh, and no sex toys were put to use in the making of this book.

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Review: "Kidnapped for Christmas" by Evangeline Anderson

Kidnapped for ChristmasKidnapped for Christmas by Evangeline Anderson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Okay, I'll say it: there was nothing remotely believable in this story, but I liked it. A lot. Yes, I did!

Kyle was yummy, Jillian was very likable and the BDSM play was sexy and as light as a feather... Well, maybe not that light, but there was no humiliation, no torture, no unbearable pain and no heavy spanking with whips, riding crops or paddles. *shudders* Plus, Kyle was a responsible Dom, always attentive to Jillian's reactions to what he did. Jillian never felt unsafe in his hands, and that's what allowed me to relax and enjoy the "show". ;)

The only thing that bothered me was the Big Misunderstanding near the end of the story. Big Misunderstandings are usually designed to create conflict between the H/h and pave the way for the Great Epiphany that makes the H/h realize they are in love. That plot device was completely unnecessary in this story, IMHO. When the Big Mis was thrown into the story, Kyle and Jillian were already ready to take things further and start a relationship, so the conflict only served to annoy me. Ms. Anderson should have used those pages to give us more smut, LOL.

Overall, this was a very fun and hot read. I wouldn't mind being 'napped by Kyle. *lusty grin*

And just so you know:


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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Review: "Christmas Hookup" by Lex Valentine

Christmas HookupChristmas Hookup by Lex Valentine

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4 1/2 stars

Awww, this was such a cute story! I loved it - and that's all I can say because it's a quickie and I don't want to give away any spoilers. (Yes, Ms. Valentine has managed to include a nice plot twist in this very short story. I must have a look at her backlist. If she's good enough to pull something this good within the word limit of a quickie, imagine what she can do without that constraint.)

Here's Riley (he's a model and this pic has everything to do with the story):


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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Review: "Kiss and Tell" by Cherry Adair

Kiss and Tell (T-FLAC, #2)Kiss and Tell by Cherry Adair

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Now I know why I left this book collecting dust on my TBR pile for more than 5 years! Overall, it wasn't a bad book but the first half did drag a bit. I only persevered because many readers whose opinion I trust said it was worth it. Am I glad I did? Well, let's just say I don't regret reading the book...

Jake was the typical alpha hero who had been "burned by love" and betrayed by friends, so he had serious trusting issues. Hiding in his mountain lair while trying to understand who betrayed him, the last thing he needed to further complicate his life was a somewhat clueless blonde named Marnie. In less than twenty-four hours, they were both running for their lives, trying to escape the assassins sent to kill him. I bet sweet and sheltered Marnie didn't see that coming when she decided to spend the weekend at her grandmother's cabin in the mountain.

Now, here comes my first "problem" with the story... One could say that Jake had "trust no one" tattooed on his forehead, but he not only took Marnie to his ultra secret lair but also revealed what he did for a living and told her all his past history. Okay, he was in lust with her but he wasn't in love with her and, most importantly, he didn't trust her yet. I didn't expected him to leave her alone to deal with the assassins on their trail, of course, but his revealing the location of his lair and everything else early on was out of character.

My second "problem" was Marnie... Maybe she was supposed to provide some comic(?) relief with her never-ending blabbering but I just wanted her to shut up. As the story progressed and she managed to save Jake's life a couple of times, she grew on me a little but she was still far from becoming one of my favorite heroines.

The villain's identity came as no surprise to me, and he was somewhat pathetic. Seeing how Jake manipulated his emotions easily in their final showdown, it was hard to believe he had managed to elude so many highly trained agents for so long. And why, oh why, do villains always have to waste time bragging and tauting the hero? Don't they know the cavalry will come and end their evil doings right before they're ready to kill the H/h? Sucker! :)

But then came the last chapter... and I melted into a puddle of goo. Awww, Jake was so sweet and adorable! I closed the book with a sigh and almost forgot my previous complaints. I said, almost...

All things considered, this was just an okay read. I wasn't able to suspend my disbelief to buy that many plot holes, but the actions scenes were good and kept me on the verge of my seat. If only I had been able to check my brain at the door when I started reading this book... ;)

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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Review: "Winter Edge" by Anne Stuart

Winter's EdgeWinter's Edge by Anne Stuart

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I've read - and loved - several books by Anne Stuart lately, so I was more than excited to read this one even though amnesia stories aren't that attractive to me. But, hey, Lisa Kleypas made it work in Someone to Watch Over Me so I trusted Ms. Stuart to pull it off too.

Oh boy, I'm afraid to say she didn't - not for me, anyway.

Ms. Stuart can write, there's no question about it, and that's what kept me turning the pages, but there were too many holes in the plot to prevent me from fully enjoying this book.

First off, the amnesia plot device itself... I could have bought it without much of a problem, but the complete change that it brought on Molly's behavior was unbelievable! At one point, Patrick himself said, "amnesia is only supposed to cause memory loss, not total personality change." One could argue that Molly had been acting out of character during the ten months before her accident but, really, a ten-month temper tantrum doesn't qualify as an out-of-character behavior. If you could keep this trait that long, it wasn't acting, it was who you were. And that shouldn't have changed only because you lost your memory, IMHO.

Then, the hero and the heroine... I just didn't get either Molly or Patrick. Both of them were imature and I couldn't believe how they failed to communicate with each other - during ten whole months, no less! And, sin of all sins, it all started with a lie told by his jealous lover. Young, naive and gullible Molly bought it all and, from that moment on, a Big Misunderstanding was established and all lines of communication between Patrick and her were severed. Why they stayed married for so long when they couldn't even stand to stay in the same room, I'll never understand. I truly believed they hated each other and, quite frankly, I couldn't buy their HEA because they didn't spend enough time together patching things up after her accident.

As it was, Patrick turned out to be one of my least favorite heroes ever. He was cruel, cold, distant, refused to listen to Molly and never did anything to help her. Okay, she'd hurt him badly before the accident, but he was no innocent either. He cheated on her and had no qualms parading around the house with his lover by his side! He might have thought he was just getting even with Molly, for he believed she was cheating on him too, but that doesn't fly with me. My heroes don't do that! And what about when he finally realized Molly had lied about all the lovers? Why didn't he try to find out why? Since it all started on their wedding day, why didn't he try to find out what happened that day that made her act like that? I could only guess he didn't love her enough to care.

As for the mystery, I guessed from the beginning who the master villain was and couldn't understand why Molly didn't see it. He was so stereotypical and obvious that Ms. Stuart would have had to pull a hat trick if she decided to convince me it was someone else. The other "villains" came as a surprise but, at that point, I really didn't care anymore. I just wanted the story to end.

I was very disappointed with this book, but I still hold Ms. Stuart as one of my favorite authors. With a backlist as huge as hers, it was a given I wouldn't end up loving all her books, so I'm not concerned. I know there's still a lot of goodies in store. :)

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Review: "The Prize" by Julie Garwood

The PrizeThe Prize by Julie Garwood

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"He never knew what hit him." The first line in this book was enough to hook me. How could I not love a heroine who was smart and resourceful enough to drop the hero to the ground in the middle of a battle?

Baron Royce is Norman and Lady Nicholaa is Saxon, and that makes them enemies in 1066. The Prize starts with Nicholaa trying to defend her home against Royce and his "barbaric" soldiers. She's successfully defeated the three previous knights sent by "the bastard" William of Normandy, soon to be the new King of England, but she realizes Royce is on a league of his own and the chances of her winning against him are nonexistent. So she tricks him into thinking she's her twin sister Danielle - a nun! - and manages to escape and find sanctuary in the nearest convent. When Royce finds out that there's no sister Danielle and that he's been had by the cunning Nicholaa, he can't help but appreciate how clever she is and surprises his men by laughing instead of getting furious with her deception.

Arrogant that he is, Royce doesn't see Nicholaa's escape as a defeat, as he's sure he'll be able to leave her sanctuary and go with him to meet his King William in London. As the Saxon woman who's so valiantly defended her family's holding, she's a legend among the Normans, the bride the King is going to give to his most worthy knight as "the prize" in a contest for her hand - and her family's holding and lands, of course. As it happens, Royce does get Nicholaa to leave her sanctuary and go with him to London, even though she keeps trying to escape every chance she gets along the way. During this journey, they start seeing each other with new eyes, and Royce grows more and more attracted to Nicholaa while she realizes how honorable, caring and protective he is. And that's how they start to fall in love with each other, against their better judgment. Naturally, they still have a long way to understand and accept their feelings, and that's where the fun lies. :)

I liked Royce from the start, and he won me when he laughed - instead of going ballistic - at being bested by Nicholaa with her "nun act". He was arrogant, hard and a bit gruff on the outside, but soft and oh-so-sweet on the inside. He was like a delicious petit gâteau, my favorite dessert, and all I can say is, Yummy, may I have some more, please? ;) He was smart and brave, but didn't think he was worthy of Nicholaa because she was a beautiful and gentle lady while he was just an "ugly" - his face was marred by a horrible scar - and hardened warrior. But she never saw him that way and, incredibly, she even thought his "handsomeness" was disturbing. Ah, love is blind, indeed!

Nicholaa was a strong and cunning heroine. She was a bit ditzy and naive sometimes - her convoluted plan to get Royce drunk with ale backfired big time, LOL - but that came across as charming and not annoying. She also seemed unable to stop herself from telling lies - all for the greater good, of course - but she couldn't keep them straight to save her life and Royce had no problem seeing through them. The way he kept cornering and trapping her inside her lies had me laughing out loud every single time.

And Royce's lectures... I loved those scenes. The man loved to lecture Nicholaa, even though he was aware she didn't pay any attention to it. I had a smile on my face every time he clasped his hands behind his back, started lecturing her and she just sat there with her hands folded on her lap, daydreaming the whole time. That was just one example of the many interactions between Royce and Nicholaa that were just a joy to read, and I couldn't get enough of them.

The only thing that I found a bit "jarring" was the lack of closure in regards to Nicholaa's older brother Thurston. That wasn't "bad" enough to make me enjoy this book any less, it's just that I wanted to know what happened to him.

All in all, what's left for me to say? Another Garwood, another winner! At this point, I'm a truly devoted fan of Ms. Garwood. I haven't gone through all her backlist yet, but I really loved everything I've read so far. Having read her books almost back to back, it was easy for me to notice that her stories have some kind of a "formula", but it's one I love so I'm all for it. Very well done, Ms. Garwood!

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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Review: "The Bride's Baby" by Liz Fielding

The Bride's BabyThe Bride's Baby by Liz Fielding

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The book blurb made me think this was a Secret Baby story... Well, it was but, at the same time, it really wasn't considering the fact that the baby wasn't a secret. Confusing? Yes, that's the feeling I had throughout most of the book.

Tom and Sylvie had a brief meeting when she was introduced as the wedding planner for his upcoming nuptials to her friend Candy. An unexpected attraction sparked on both sides, but considering that he was about to get married, Tom and Sylvie shoved that feeling aside and never let anyone - including themselves - realize it. But after six months of heavy planning and preparation, Candy ditched everything to elope with one of Sylvie's employees three days before the wedding. Naturally, Tom felt it was his due to unload all his "annoyance" on Sylvie - after all, she had plagued his dreams since he had met her - and, before they knew it, their mutual suppressed attraction took over and they were having unprotected sex on his bed...

Since this is Romancelandia, the "worst" thing you can get from unprotected sex is a pregnancy, so that's what Sylvie got. Unfortunately, Tom was no longer in the picture when Sylvie found herself pregnant, since he had left the country the day after their one-night stand. Unable to reach him by telephone, she had no choice but to deliver him the news by letter. Obviously, he never got to receive that letter and so this Failure to Communicate story took off.

This was one of those stories that wouldn't make past the first chapters if the hero and the heroine sat together and spoke clearly with each other. Regardless, Tom and Sylvie were likable characters, and that kind of "saved" the book for me and prevented me from throwing it against the wall - figuratively speaking, since this was an e-book. I rooted for their HEA and was glad when the darn Big Misunderstanding was finally resolved.

As for the writing, Ms. Fielding had the distracting habit of inserting the word "then" between the lines of the characters' speech. For example:

"Is that a fact?" Then, "So? Where are they?"

"I'd come and give you a hand but I have to take delivery of a cake." Then, "Do you need a hand up?"

I have to ask, what was the purpose of the word "then" in there? To gave us pause? To help her reach the necessary word count to meet the publisher's requirements? I know I'm nitpicking but that word was used over and over again in the story, and it was annoying.

All in all, I'm glad this was a freebie because I would have been mad if I had paid anything for this book.

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Review: "My Lady Notorious" by Jo Beverley

My Lady Notorious (Malloren, #1)My Lady Notorious by Jo Beverley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Warning: This isn't really a review. It's a rant, and therefore it's full of spoilers.

This book had an interesting premise - a strong heroine who disguises herself as a boy and "kidnaps" the charming hero in order to help her widowed sister - and I was fully expecting to enjoy it, but somehow it didn't work that well for me.

I loved the beginning of the book, when I got to know the somewhat flighty Cyn Malloren and the Notorious Chastity Ware. Since she was in disguise, he didn't know who she really was but he knew she was a woman and not the lad "Charles" she pretended to be, so he was instantly "smitten". She was also attracted to him but, alas, they couldn't really act on their feelings because she was a "he" - or so she thought he thought her to be, and he didn't want to reveal he wasn't fooled by her disguise. That deception provided some funny banter between them and Cyn had a lot of fun teasing "Charles". Unfortunately, that got old after a while because the author chose to drag that scenario for more than half the story. At one point, I found myself alternating between yelling at Cyn to tell her "Fun's over, love, I know you're a woman" and yelling at Chastity to tell him "Hey, guess what, I'm actually a woman".

But they didn't listen to me... The "secret" was not even revealed when they had sex for the first time. Again, she donned another disguise - she was "Chloe" now - and, although he knew who she was, he didn't say anything. The whole thing just felt "wrong" to me, when it should have been romantic. And the "before" and "after" their interlude only added an ick factor to it. *shudders*

See, their "lovemaking" - and I use that term loosely because I didn't feel any "love" there - happened during an orgy party hosted by one of Cyn's friends. Why the author felt the need to include an orgy in the story was beyond me, but that wasn't the worst part. The worst was having Chastity's brother Fort grab and kiss her as if she was one of the tarts invited to provide amusement to the party. He didn't know who she was - she was disguised as "Chloe", remember? - but she knew who he was, and I still don't know how he didn't end up wearing the contents of her stomach after that kiss. "Eew" doesn't begin to describe my feelings while I was reading that scene.

Then we had what happened "after" Cyn and Chastity's "lovemaking"... Right after leaving Cyn in the bedroom, Chastity ran into Cyn's brother Rothgar and, wow, he kissed her too! And I'm not talking about a peck, I'm talking about an open-mouthed kiss with tongues and all. WTF?!? When the orgy party was finally over, I was scratching my head and trying to figure out if I wanted to keep reading the book, because I didn't particularly like any of the characters, not even Cyn and Chastity, at that point.

As I'm stubborn as a mule, I kept reading and, incredibly, the story got better after those events and the book picked up its pace. But I felt like I was reading a different book, one where Rothgar, and not Cyn, was the hero. Rothgar just took the story over with his convoluted machinations, and Cyn was left to play an errand boy to his older brother. Chastity started having more "screen time" with Rothgar than with Cyn, and I wouldn't have been surprised if she had ended up with the older brother. They did have good chemistry between them, and that wasn't a good thing as the hero of this book was Cyn!

The ending was as convoluted as Rothgar's machinations, with everything and everyone falling into place according to his plan. It was so OTT that I had to reread it to follow all the weird "coincidences" that made the HEA possible.

While I didn't enjoy the story itself due to all its quirkiness and slow pace, especially in the first half of the book, I loved Cyn (except when he went all judgmental and cold toward Chastity during that darn orgy party), I cared for Chastity (enough to want to kill her father myself), and I thought Ms. Beverley's writing was good at making me feel the ambiance where the story took place, no matter how uncomfortable it was for me.

So I didn't love this book, which was a pity, but I didn't hate it either. Am I going to read the rest of the series? I'm not sure. Rothgar was the only secondary character I found interesting in this book, and "everyone" says his book is disappointing so I'd rather stick with the picture I have of him now. Am I going to read any other books by this author? Possibly, but I'm not running to the bookstore to get them.

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Review: "At the Bride Hunt Ball" by Olivia Parker

At the Bride Hunt Ball (Devine & Friends, #1)At the Bride Hunt Ball by Olivia Parker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Don't you love it when you don't have high expectations about a book and it turns out to be a delightful read? That's what happened with this book. Knowing its premise was similar to the TV show The Bachelor - a group of girls gathered in the same house for a period of time with the sole objective of catching the coveted bachelor -, I wasn't sure I'd enjoy this read. Well, I'm glad I overcame my initial prejudice because At the Bride Hunt Ball ended up being a very entertaining read.

Gabriel Devine, the Duke of Wolverest, has sworn off marriage but he knows he needs to start "producing" heirs to carry on the title, so he decides his younger brother, Lord Tristan, is to be married and to take care of the "heir issue". Gabriel's plan is quite simple: invite seven young ladies (and their chaperones, of course) to a house party at his country estate, so his brother can get acquainted with them, "evaluate" them and, after a fortnight, choose the "winner".

Madelyn Haywood is one of the seven ladies selected to participate in the "contest". She doesn't really want to go because she doesn't have any interest in mingling with the "rakish" Devine brothers, but her stepmother forces her to go. Madelyn finds another reason to go when she discovers that her friend Charlotte, who's been in love with Lord Tristan for years, is also one of the selected ladies, and Madelyn vows to protect her too dreamy-eyed friend from Lord Tristan's wicked ways.

At first, Gabriel plans to make himself scarce during the house party, as he has no interest in getting himself involved in the "contest" as long as Tristan comes out of it with a bride in tow, but he can't resist Madelyn. She isn't like any other woman he's ever met, and he can't help falling in love with her and questioning his decision to never marry. On her side, she slowly realizes that he isn't the cad she thought he was, and falls for him too. He blunders his marriage proposal but, as this is Romancelandia, it's just a tiny bump in their way to the HEA.

As described above, the plot of this story was quite simple and straightforward, with no unexpected twists. What made this book so enjoyable was watching Gabriel and Madelyn interact and fall in love with each other. I smiled, laughed, sighed and, at one point, even hurt with them. Gabriel was a bit arrogant sometimes - after all, he was the Duke of Wolverest and he could do anything he wanted! - but he was completely helpless when it came to Madelyn. She was adorable in her clumsiness, and I was very happy to see how Gabriel helped her overcome her insecurities.

All in all, I had a great time reading this book, and I recommend it to anyone who likes a light and sweet romantic comedy set in Regency England.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Review: "Honor's Splendour" by Julie Garwood

Honor's SplendourHonor's Splendour by Julie Garwood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yay, another great book by Julie Garwood! :)

The story opens with Baron Duncan of Wexton stripped of his clothing, tied to a post, and left to freeze to death by Baron Louddon's men. But as soon as he's alone, Louddon's sister, Lady Madelyne, comes to his rescue and frees him. Ducan can't believe his luck - not that he's in any real danger and in need of her help because his "capture" was all part of a bigger plan -, but fate is just giving him what he came for. Duncan's sister, Adela, was raped by Louddon about a month ago, so he decided to kidnap Madelyn and force a confrontation with her brother, seeking revenge for what he's done. Having Madelyne unselfishly help him is beyond anything Duncan expected, and he falls hard and fast for her. Obviously, it takes some time until he realizes that.

As soon as Duncan is freed, he and his men attack Louddon's men and destroy his fortress. When the battle is over, Duncan is disappointed to find that Louddon is absent, since the coward Baron escaped to London soon after Duncan was "captured", thinking of establishing an alibi for Duncan's death. Knowing that Louddon will go after them, Duncan takes Madelyne as his "captive" to his home. And so it begins a most romantic story...

This book hooked me from the start, with one of the most beautiful opening scenes I've ever read. Oh, I've heard about the whole "feet warming" and such beforehand, as it's often mentioned as a memorable scene by many readers, but it didn't lessen the impact of it. It was exciting to actually read the whole scene and not only a snippet of it, and I was smiling and sighing like a ninny the whole time. Like Duncan, I fell in love with Madelyn there and then.

As I'm beginning to expect from Garwood's heroines, Madelyne was a bit ditzy and clumsy, but her kindness and courage won me over. Her inability to tell a lie was charming, sometimes funny and, in the end, saved the day. See, it pays to always tell the truth, especially if you tell it in a way that gets people a little confused. :)

Duncan was also what I've come to expect from a Garwood's hero: an arrogant but honorable warrior, protective, patient and completely devoted to Madelyne. He did force her to marry him, but it was for her protection - among other reasons, like his yet-unprofessed love for her and his desire do bed her ;) - and he never meant to hurt or harm her in any way.

Honor's Splendour was all about Duncan and Madelyne realizing they were made for each other and, as a bonus, making Louddon pay for his sins. I loved the way Ducan explained to himself why he felt compelled to sneak into Madelyne's bedroom to sleep with her when she was still his "captive", I smiled with his listing the reasons for marrying her, I sighed every time he sighed - just for show, of course - with one of her antics, I laughed with her attempts at learning self-defense... To sum things up, I adored Duncan and Madelyne.

The only thing that bothered me a bit in this book was, I felt it dragged a little after Duncan and Madelyne said ILY to each other. Things got too calm and quiet after that, and I couldn't wait to see how Duncan was going to "finish" Louddon for good. I trusted Duncan but I didn't trust King William, and his "special friendship" with Louddon could be a problem. In the end, everything worked out, and Duncan and Madelyne got their true HEA - after all, this is Romancelandia. :)

This was only my fourth book by Garwood and, based on what I've read so far, I can't wait to read more of her. Working my way through her backlist will keep me entertained for a long time, and I couldn't be happier.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Review: "Kill and Tell" by Linda Howard

Kill and TellKill and Tell by Linda Howard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm a big fan of LH's earlier romantic suspense novels, but her latest releases have failed to catch my interest. Kill and Tell is one of her oldies and, IMHO, a very good one.

The story starts with Dexter Whitlaw, a Vietnam veteran, sending a "mysterious" package to his estranged wife. Unbeknown to him, she died a few weeks ago and it's their daughter, Karen, who receives the package. Still grieving for her mother's death and resentfull of her father, who left them when she was only a teenager to never come back, Karen doesn't give the package any importance, sends it to a storage house along with her deceased mother's belongings, and forgets about it.

Fast foward 6 months, and Dex is killed in a New Orleans street. Homicide Detective Marc Chastain is assigned to the case, and he soon suspects that there's more to it than the "simple" murder of a homeless John Doe. But solving the murder of a homeless man isn't top priority for the police, so as soon as the body is identified as belonging to Dexter Whitlaw, all Marc is left to do is contact his family (aka Karen) and get her to take care of his funeral.

Karen works as a nurse at the surgical floor of a hospital in Ohio, and she's still not fully recovered from the loss of her mother. When Marc tells her her father is dead, she doesn't know how to feel about it. He's been a virtual stranger to her but, out of duty and respect for her mother who never stopped loving him, Karen flies to New Orleans to identify and claim her father's body.

Marc doesn't really like Karen at first - he finds her too cold and unfeeling - but it doesn't take long until he realizes that's just a facade and, in fact, she feels too much behind her controlled behavior. That's when he falls hard and fast for her and, knowing time isn't on his side, begins an intense courtship. Oh boy, I wish I had a man like Marc to help me whenever I'm facing a difficult time! ;)

Things get complicated when a 2nd body is discovered in Mississipi. Even though there are no visible links, Marc feels the two murders are connected and starts investigating. This calls the attention of the CIA, the bad guys get antsy and, suddenly, Karen has the killer after her. But why? What do they want with her? What was in the package sent by her father?

If I didn't make it clear before, let me tell you again: I loved Marc! He was protective, caring, and totally devoted to Karen. Some readers thought he was a bit manipulative, taking advantage of her distress to seduce her, but I really didn't see it that way. Was she feeling vulnerable and needy? Yes, but it wasn't like anyone would do. No, she wanted Marc as much as he wanted her. And he wasn't after a one-night stand, he just felt the need to speed up his intense courtship because she was leaving in 3 days and he wanted to hook her on a relationship with him before she left and put him behind her. Desperate times call for drastic measures, LOL.

It took me longer to like Karen. I thought she was too cold and passive at first, but then I understood she was basically on the verge of depression and I could definitely relate to that. Been there, done that. She won me over when she managed to escape a near-death situation all by herself. Gotta love an intelligent heroine who doesn't have a single TSTL bone in her body!

I have one small complaint about this book: it's somewhat short and could have used 50 or so more pages to develop Marc and Karen's relationship, IMHO. Other than that, I really enjoyed this book and look forward to read All the Queen's Men, the next book in this miniseries loosely connected through John Medina's character.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Review: "The Bride Finder" by Susan Carroll

The Bride Finder (St. Leger, #1)The Bride Finder by Susan Carroll

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First things first... Thank you for recommending this book, Fani! Who would have thought I'd enjoy a historical PNR so much? Fani, that would be you! ;)

The Bride Finder is a romantic gothic tale, featuring a dark, tortured and brooding hero who lives in a haunted castle - where else could he live? - and a no-nonsense and engaging heroine.

Anatole St. Leger comes from a long line of ancestors who are cursed - or blessed, depending on how one sees it - with paranormal powers. Anatole's "gift" is, he's telekinetic, can see the future, and sense the presence of other people before he sees or hears them. Considering how "unique" they are, every member of the St. Leger family must ask the Bride Finder to choose his/her mate if they want to live a long and happy life. Anatole is well aware of the consequences of forsaking the Bride Finder's services - his parents' marriage was not a match made by the Bride Finder and, as the legend dictates, ended tragically - so he knows better than tempt fate. When the time comes for him to choose a bride, he calls the Bride Finder. He makes a list of what he wants in a wife, but we can't always get what we want... And what we want isn't always what we need...

What Anatole gets is Madeline Breton, who agrees to marry him sight unseen thanks to the Bride Finder's smart and somewhat tricky talking. When she arrives at Castle Leger to meet her husband, she's disappointed to find out that Anatole's nothing like she expected. He isn't thrilled with her either, so the Bride Finder has to smooth things out between the newlyweds. The Bride Finder strongly advises Anatole to come clean with Madeline about his paranormal powers, but Anatole decides to keep them a secret because he's afraid she'll get scared and reject him. And so begins their journey towards their HEA...

I loved both Anatole and Madeline, and I especially liked the fact that they didn't fall in love at first sight. That's very common in PNR romances, where the H/h are usually fated to be together and feel connected to each other right from the start, so it was nice to see a different approach. Anatole and Madeline were meant to be together - that was what the Bride Finder's job was about, to find the woman destined to be Anatole's love for all eternity - but that didn't mean that they fell instantly in love. It was wonderful to watch they find their way around each other and make their marriage work. And when he finally told her about his paranormal powers... All I'm going to say is, I'd have done the same thing she did.

The ending - most particularly, the last paragraph of the last chapter and the 1st line of the epilogue - almost gave me a heart attack. Wow, scary moment there! Thankfully, it was gone soon enough and I closed the book with a satisfying sigh. :)

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Review: "Stranded with a Spy" by Merline Lovelace

Stranded With A SpyStranded With A Spy by Merline Lovelace

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finally! A Harlequin freebie I really enjoyed!

Tired of being stalked by the media after her sexual harassment lawsuit against her former employer has been dismissed for lack of evidence, Mallory decides a vacation in France is just what the doctor ordered. Unfortunately, unbeknown to her, someone puts a CD with highly classified information in her suitcase in an attempt to smuggle it outside the U.S. Airport security goes ballistic when they find the CD and OMEGA, a top secret government intelligence agency, and Cutter, one of its operatives, are called to the picture. Cutter's mission is to follow Mallory and catch her in the act of delivering the CD to the Russian criminal OMEGA believes she's working with, but he soon starts to question if she's as guilty as he thinks. And when his interest in her turns more than personal, things get complicated...

Cutter and Mallory were very likeable characters, and I had no problem believing how quickly they fell in love with each other. She was a bit too trusting at first, but I'm not sure I wouldn't have done the same if I was in her shoes. As this book is part of a series, other OMEGA operatives made appearances in the story and, while they were interesting, I thought some of their scenes were unnecessary - particularly the ones featuring secondary characters Mike and Gillian, who are the H/h in Undercover Wife, BTW.

As for the plot, it was well done. The pace was a bit slow in the beginning - as much as I loved revisiting Mont St. Michel, I could have done without the detailed description provided by Ms. Lovelace - but it got better once Cutter and Mallory got together. The ending was a bit anticlimatic and, funny enough, even Mallory thought that, LOL. Anyway, I didn't need to see bullets flying and blood splattered all over the place. All in all, I was pretty much happy with the way things were.

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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Review: "Saving Grace" by Julie Garwood

Saving GraceSaving Grace by Julie Garwood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having heard such high praise about this book, I had sky-high expectations and expected to be blown away by it. Unfortunately, that didn't happen - not in the firsst half of the story, anyway. It took me a long time to like Gabriel - too arrogant and distant - and Johanna - too ditzy and scared. At one point, I was ready to scream if he told her to rest one more time! That was funny at first, like a recurring joke, but it got old pretty fast - probably because she didn't put a stop to it soon enough to suit me. Considering what she'd gone through during her first marriage, when she'd been a silent victim of spousal abuse, I completely understood her fears when it came to Gabriel, who was this "big and bad" Highland warrior, and I knew she needed time to get over them so I gave her some slack, but I couldn't wait to see her grow some spine. When she finally did... Wow, it was like I was reading another book! It was funny, touching, action-packed, everything I had expected to find at first, and I could not put the book down. Wonderful save, Ms. Garwood! :)

Now, addressing the age issue that had me concerned before I started reading this book... Unless I missed it, neither Gabriel's nor Johanna's age was mentioned in the story. Aside from her brother saying that she had gotten married the first time when she was “still a child”, there was not other clue in the book and I only “knew” she was sixteen years old at the beginning of story because I read the book description. I know this is a minor detail and it shouldn't have bothered me, but it did. I like knowing how old the H/h are, especially if one of them is that young.

All in all, this was another very good story by Ms. Garwood, and she's now officially one of my favorite authors.

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Saturday, November 5, 2011

Review: "Bound by Your Touch" by Meredith Duran

Bound by Your TouchBound by Your Touch by Meredith Duran

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

AMAZING! That's the word that came to my mind when I finished this book. I'm always a bit wary when I start reading a book that's been highly praised by "everyone", as sky-high expectations can turn an otherwise excellent read into a "somewhat disappointingly good" read, so I didn't know what to expect from Bound by Your Touch when I picked it up. Well, I'm glad to say that "everyone" was right and I'm joining the chorus. I loved everything about this book: James, Lydia, the secondary characters, the story...

Lydia is the oldest daughter of Henry Boyce, an archaeologist who spends a great part of his life working in Egypt. A confirmed spinster at the advanced age of twenty-six, Lydia is her father's business manager and takes care of his trading affairs in London while he's away in Egypt. Raising funds to support her father's research is one of her responsabilities, so Lydia is more than a little annoyed when James barges into one of her fund-raising meetings with some important and rich men and interrupts her speech.

James's sole goal in life is to annoy his father, the Earl of Moreland, any way he can and, unfortunately for Lydia, his father is one of the important and rich men in attendance to her meeting and James doesn't care where or when he manages to achieve his goal. James and Lydia doesn't exactly make sparks fly in their first meeting, but they are intrigued - or should I say, annoyed - enough to dedicate a thought or two to each other. A few days later, the possibility of her father being involved in trading forgeries and smuggling precious gems from Egypt leads Lydia to seek James's cooperation and that's when the story really takes off.

I fell in love with Lydia right from the start. When I finished reading the Prologue, I was already rooting for her HEA. How could I care so much for her so soon? I can only "blame" Ms. Duran's writing skills for that. As I read the following chapters, I grew to love Lydia even more. On the surface, she seemed to be all prim, proper and good, but she nurtured a well-deserved dislike of her sister Sophie, who stole and married the man she loved. I liked the fact that Lydia wasn't "perfect". I mean, aren't we all tired of the saintly heroine who, despite everything and everyone, is always understanding and forgiving? That jealous sister of her betrayed her, and Lydia was more than welcome to harbor some resentment over it. Not that she was mean or anything, but she didn't regard her sister's betrayal as something "unimportant".

As for James, I had a hard time with him at first. He was handsome and charming, but his self-destructive behavior was, like Lydia stated at one point, childish. He was constantly drunk - or trying to get drunk - and his life was dedicated to embarass and cause pain to his father, there was no other purpose in it. He had "everything" but did nothing useful with it. Or so it seemed. Slowly but gradually, I got to know what drove him and, even though I couldn't fully support the way he chose to deal with it, I understood him and, like Lydia, fell in love with him. To borrow her words, "Everyone is brave in his own way. You must not blame others if they don't fit your mold."

Lydia and James came from two very problematic families, to say the least, so it was no wonder they were dysfunctional to some extent. I like to think that it was their meeting each other that "saved" them from the dead end lives they had been living but, in the end, each dealt with his/her problem on his/her own. I admit I was "shocked" when James left Lydia and told her he wouldn't help her with her father, even knowing her life might be in danger. A knight in shining armor he wasn't, and that was unusual.

The ending was bittersweet and, again, unusual. "We will be rather alone, Lydia thought. She would not want her father at their wedding. And they would not be spending holidays at Moreland's house. Not for some time yet, at least. But there was Ana. In a few years, perhaps Stella would be with them as well. And their own children, eventually. A new cycle, a new chance to make things right." There was no "deus ex machina", no miraculous resolution for James's strained relationship with his father or Lydia's damaged relationship with her sister Sophie and, ultimately, her father. I usually don't like when I'm left with "unfinished businesses" at the ending of a book, but I really didn't mind it this time around. James and Lydia had their HEA, there was no doubt about it, and everything else would work out... eventually.

This book went straight to my keepers shelf, and I can't wait to get my hands on Ms. Duran's next book.

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Monday, October 31, 2011

Review: "Dangerous" by Amanda Quick

DangerousDangerous by Amanda Quick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read somewhere that Amanda Quick's historical romance novels follow an usual "formula": a somewhat tortured hero who needs to learn how to love and laugh + a quirky heroine who marches into his life bringing said love and laughter and never takes no for an answer. Well, I happen to like that "formula" and Dangerous does follow it, so no one will see me complaining here. :)

I loved the charming and sarcastic hero (Sebastian) and the funny and indomitable heroine (Prue). Their quick banter had me laughing from the start, and it didn't take long for Sebastian to realize that he was never going to win an argument with Prue. Not because he wasn't smart or witty enough but because he just wanted to make her happy. Too melodramatic? Perhaps, but it only made me love him more.

Sebastian and Prue's relationship went kind of smoothly from the start and all the way through the end. There wasn't really any big bumps on their road to the HEA - once they got together, there was no doubt on their minds their marriage was going to work - but that doesn't mean that the journey was boring. Quite the contrary. Their common interest in investigating "unusual" things - he helped a Bow Street Runner to solve some cases as a hobby and she was an amateur ghost hunter - kept the story flowing very nicely. The whodunit mystery they ended up investigating together was actually very good. Call me naïve but I didn't guess who the killer was. Not that there were that many suspects, it was the "why" that kept escaping me.

All in all, this was a great read and my favorite book by this author. Okay, I've only read two so far, but who's counting? (LOL)

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Review: "Running with the Devil" by Lorelei James

Running with the DevilRunning with the Devil by Lorelei James

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

OMG, this was a seriously hot read! Ms. James sure knows how to write steamy love scenes, and I'll never look at a motorcycle the same way I used to do before I read this book... ;)

I'm not going to give a plot summary here because the book description does the job pretty well. The story had a good setup and the mystery/suspense part was interesting, even though I guessed who the villain was pretty easily - that's what happens when you have very few secondary characters. There were some gripping moments when Drake had to stand aside and let Kenna be mauled by some bad guys, and I really related to her "discomfort" - to put it mildly. I understood his need to keep his cover but Kenna wasn't an undercover agent, so I almost hated him for having forced her into that situation. Anyway, she made him see "the errors of his way" and they had the most sizzling make-up sex on a motorcycle... Oh boy, what a ride! *fans herself*

Drake was one hot DEA agent who had never had problems focusing on the job to be done - until he met Kenna... What I loved about him was, he wasn't a sex machine who lived his life fooling around. Granted, he enjoyed a healthy sex life as much as the next guy, but he wasn't like the popular manwhore in Romancelandia who only decides to redeem himself after he finds "the one". Kenna was sexy and funny at first, but the more I knew her, the more she grated on my nerves. I'd like to say that she was too naïve but, truth be told, she came across as a bit stupid to me. Come on, did she really think an escort service that provided only escort services was for real? Sorry but that was too far-fetched to buy.

Overall, I enjoyed Ms. James' writing and I had a great time reading this book - the sexual tension between Drake and Kenna was great and that's what I want to see when I read a romantica story. This was my 1st book by this author but it won't be my last.

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Review: "The Pagan Stone" by Nora Roberts

The Pagan Stone (Sign of Seven, #3)The Pagan Stone by Nora Roberts

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Call me a wuss, but The Pagan Stone scared the living daylights out of me. NR's description of the Big Evil was so good that my vivid imagination didn't have any problem bringing it to life. I actually had to stop reading this book last night and find something "lighter" to do, because the Big Evil was the last thing I wanted to have on my mind when I turned off all the lights.

From the publisher:

Years ago, after their blood brother ritual, Gage, Fox and Caleb emerged from the woods, each with a piece of bloodstone. Now, it will become their weapon in the final fight against the demon they awakened. Winner take all...

Shared nightmares, visions of blood and fire, and random violence plague the longtime friends
and Quinn, Layla and Cybil, the women bound to them by Fate. None of them can ignore the fact that, this year, the demon has grown stronger — feeding off the terror it creates. But now the three pieces of the bloodstone have been fused back together. If only they could figure out how to use it.

A gambling man like Gage has no trouble betting on his crew to find a way. And though he and Cybil share the gift of seeing the future, that’s all they have in common. Were they to take their flirtation to the next level, it would be on their own terms, not because Fate decreed it. But Gage knows that a woman like Cybil — with her brains and strength and devastating beauty — can only bring him luck. Whether it’s good or bad has yet to be determined — and could mean the difference between absolute destruction or an end to the nightmare for Hawkins Hollow.

So it's Gage and Cybil's turn in The Pagan Stone...

Gage has been my favorite character in the trilogy since the first book. He was the loner in the group, even though his friendship with Cal and Fox was strong and undeniable. He was the one with the tortured past and the harsh demeanor. He was impatient and sometimes rude, but I never felt that he was out of line. My feelings often mirrored his while I was reading the book, and he alone got my eyes misty 3 times. Yup, one could say I felt a very strong connection with him.

I liked Cybil too. Out of the three heroines in the trilogy, she's my favorite, but that isn't saying much because I didn't really like Quinn (Blood Brothers) and Layla (The Hollow). Cybil was good for Gage and, cliché, completed him and made him a better man. The reversal was also true, and that's why their romance worked for me.

As for the war against the Big Evil, it was thrilling and scary, just like it was supposed to be. I was almost bored to tears with all the talking in the previous book and, to be fair, there's also a lot of talking about the demon in this book, but I found it more interesting this time. Probably because everything the "gang" (Cal & Quinn, Fox & Layla, and Gage & Cybil) did seemed to be more urgent and to the point, as I knew the end was coming. There were a couple of things that triggered some eye-rolling on my part, but this is a PNR novel and you have to take a leap of faith sometimes.

Overall, this was a great ending to an uneven trilogy. Blood Brothers was really good and got me hooked on it, but The Hollow was just average and slightly disappointing. I was glad to see The Pagan Stone getting the trilogy back on track and ending it on a high note.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Review: "Partners in Crime" by Anne Stuart

Partners In CrimePartners In Crime by Anne Stuart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From the book blurb:

Sandy was up to no good.

As Jane Dexter scrambled to keep a secret formula from falling into the wrong hands, her hired accomplice proved useless as a jack-of-all-illegal-trades. Convinced that a gloriously sensual woman lurked beneath Jane's ho-hum outfits and non-nonsense manner, Sandy Caldicott lost all interest in illegal activities as he singlemindedly campaigned to reform Jane.

While Jane was breaking and entering with Sandy in Princeton, New Jersey, the awful truth penetrated her muddled brain. The way things were going, she was bound to end up in the arms of the law - or in the arms of a lawless, dashing, dangerously deluded criminal.


Alexander "Sandy" Caldicott was a rich and successful lawyer who was feeling a bit bored with his current life. Not even the prospect of a nice vacation in the tropics was exciting him. When mousy and plain Jane Dexter approached him with her "unusual" proposal, it was like a godsend gift. Goodbye, boredom! The thing is, due to a misprint by the newspaper, Jane believed he was Jimmy the Stoolie, an arsonist Sandy had just gotten acquitted of more-than-deserved charges. You see, she was in dire need of an arsonist because she wanted him to help her commit arson! The right thing for Sandy to do was set her straight and advise her against her criminal plan, but it had been a long time since he had so much fun so he kept the charade going. Before he knew it, he was falling in love with Jane and couldn't not help her.

I really liked Sandy and Jane. They were smart, entertaining and had great lines. He kept the deception about his true identify a little longer than I liked, but it was funny to see him try and cover his slips of the tongue - after all, he wasn't an accomplished liar... Oh wait, he was a lawyer! (LOL)

The plot twist at the end came as no surprise to me, and I still don't understand how Jane didn't see it coming. Maybe I've read too many books and I'm jaded. The villain's final act was also a bit of a disappointment. After everything that he'd done, I was braced for a big showdown, but all I got was a dull resolution.

All things considered, this was a very fun and enjoyable read marred by a somewhat unsatisfying ending.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Review: "The Hollow" by Nora Roberts

The Hollow (Sign of Seven, #2)The Hollow by Nora Roberts

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As the second book in the Sign of Seven trilogy, The Hollow continues the battle against the Big Evil that started in Blood Brothers. It helps to read the 1st book before jumping into this one, but you don't really have to because NR does a good job recapping the previous events - and she does it without making it sound like info dumping.

I'm not going to write a plot summary here because, quite frankly, the basic storyline of this book is similar to Blood Brothers's and I've already written a full review on that one. All the "gang" (Cal, Fox, Gage, Quinn, Layla and Cybil) is still trying to find the key to defeat the evil demon that plays havoc in the otherwise peaceful town of Hawkins Hollow every seven years. The only difference is, we have another main H/h working on their HEA this time: charming small town lawyer Fox O'Dell and annoying (former) big city boutique manager Layla Darnell.

Unfortunately, the romance between Fox and Layla didn't spark my interest. I didn't feel a strong emotional connection between them, which was strange considering the "psychic gift" they shared, and the sexual tension was close to nonexistent. There was no build-up to it: they acknowledge the attraction between them, he says he wants to sleep with her, she replies saying that they need to focus on vanquishing the Big Evil so he shouldn't pressure her, he agrees, yada yada yada, then she changes her mind out of the blue and decides to sleep with him after all. It was all so... unromantic.

I liked Fox well enough, but Layla grated on my nerves big time. I know I complained about Quinn, the heroine in Blood Brothers, being too assertive and I feel like I should be eating crow now. Layla was Quinn's complete opposite, and her I-don't-know-what-to-do-with-my-life attitude bugged me to the point that I wished she had been more like Quinn. NR just went from one extreme to the other when "drawing" them, and neither was very likeable.

As for the suspense/PNR part of the story, it was good but not too thrilling. At times, all they did was sit and talk, talk, talk... until my eyes started to glaze and I had to take a break. Thankfully, the sporadic demon's attacks were entertaining and scary, and kept me from being bored to tears. Overall, the "gang" made some progress in their battle against the Big Evil, but there was no resolution in sight yet - which was expected, considering there's still one more book to go in this trilogy.

All in all, this was just an OK read. It was kind of disappointing because I expected more from it, but it wasn't bad. I feel the next and last book, The Pagan Stone, will be better - not only because Gage and Cybil are more interesting than Fox and Layla, but also because I'll finally find out how the Big Evil will be defeated. Or will he?

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Review: "Wishing for Grace" by Inez Kelley

Wishing for GraceWishing for Grace by Inez Kelley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Twenty-six amazing pages filled with emotion. I'm amazed at the impact Ms. Kelley was able to deliver in such a short story. I even cried! Not only once, but twice! Have I mentioned that this story has only twenty-six pages? Fan-tas-tic!

Note: This story is a follow-up to Turn It Up and I highly recommend that you read that book before diving into this little emotional rollercoaster. You won't regret it.

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Review: "Turn It Up" by Inez Kelley

Turn It UpTurn It Up by Inez Kelley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I decided to read this book for two reasons: (1) I liked the premise - how often do you see a romance book where the hero withholds sex to convince the heroine about his good intentions towards her? - and (2) I loved, loved, loved Sweet as Sin, my introduction to Ms. Kelley's work.

So, did it live up to my expectations? I'm glad to say it did, even though it didn't reach the 5-star rating. :)

Dr. Sebastian "Bastian" Talbot and radio host Charlie (that's her name, not a nickname) Pierce have been best friends for years, always there for each other through thick and thin. Somewhere down the road, she roped him into guest speaking on her late night radio talk show and their flirty banter was such a hit with listeners, she invited him to co-host a radio talk show with her. Now he can be found either working gruelling shifts at the ER day and night, at the mercy of whoever defines the department work schedule, or co-hosting Let’s Talk about Sex with Dr. Hot and the Honeypot with Charlie, three nights a week.

Dr. Hot and the Honeypot:

Photobucket Photobucket

Bastian's friendship is Charlie's anchor, the one thing she values the most in her life. He feels the same about her, but can't help wanting more than just being her best friend. His feelings for her have changed over the years and now he wants to marry her and make love with her - in that order! Unfortunately for him, she doesn't believe in love, HEA is just a myth to her and, worse, she gets angry at him for threatening their friendship with his "love and marriage" talk. She thinks that it's only lust and he just wants to have sex with her, like every guy she's met since her boobs made an appearance in her early teens.

Decided to prove to her that he's serious about his marriage proposal and having sex with her, while it's definitely part of the package, isn't what's moving him, Bastian comes up with the ultimate plan: he won't have sex with her (or anyone else, for that matter) until she accepts to marry him! On her part, Charlie bets she can make him change his mind, therefore proving that sex is really what's driven him to confess his love for her. And so the battle of wills begins... Who will cave first and lose the bet? Well, I've found out, but I can't tell you. ;)

What I can tell is, I wanted Bastian. To win the battle, that is. *lusty grin* He wasn't the kind of hero I'm used to find in Romancelandia and that was refreshing. He was very open about his feelings and had no qualms about putting his heart on the line - over and over again, no matter how many times Charlie tried to step on it. That didn't mean he was a pushover, of couse. He was just determined to win her heart in return, something he was sure he was going to get as soon as she stopped running from her own feelings.

Charlie was more difficult to like. What woman in the world wouldn't want to be loved by Bastian? Okay, I'm kidding. That isn't the reason I didn't quite connect with Charlie. My main "problem" with her was, her conflicting emotions drove me a little nuts. She loved him. She didn't love him. She wanted him. She didn't want him. She truly loved him. Or maybe not. Ack! As much as I understood her awareness of getting emotionally involved with Bastian, she took a bit too long to overcome it - and when she did, it seemed rushed. I know, I'm not making much sense here, but that's how I felt. I mean, she'd had all those relationship hang-ups because of her mother's behavior since she was only a child, so I didn't believe that a "simple" conversation with her mother was all it took to get her over them. That was too close to a Big Misunderstanding for comfort.

Besides that, I still don't know what to think of Charlie's morals... I mean, she wasn't loose or slutty, but she did something in the early stage of her friendship with Bastian that is a big no-no in my book. Bastian was married at the time but his marriage was about to crash and burn, so he was an emotional wreck. In order to give him some solace, Charlie offered herself to him. Sexually, with no strings attached. Heck no, woman! The man was married. Married! Ugh, I did not like that and I'm afraid it tainted my perception of her throughout the book.

Regardless, I liked Bastian and Charlie together. Sure, I still think he deserved better, but she was the one he loved and she was nice and fun when she wasn't struggling with herself. They had great chemistry, their banter as Dr. Hot and the the Honeypot was funny and endearing at the same time, and the sexual buildup was hawt!

If you like friends-to-lovers stories, you'll most certainly enjoy this book. If it wasn't for Charlie, this would have been a 5-star read to me.

Note 1: I received this eARC from Carina Press via NetGalley. That had no influence on my review/rating.

Note 2: Pictures were taken from Inez Kelley's website, where you can find some very interesting free stuff, like Bastian's brother Caz's short story.

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Review: "Hired for her Pleasure"

Hired for Her PleasureHired for Her Pleasure by Bonnie Dee

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An escort?! As the hero in a romance book? Gasp! Oh Lord, what a jolt in my prudish - yeah, right! ;) - heart...

Monica Brennerman is a twenty-seven-year-old writer who suffers from severe agoraphobia. So severe that she can't even make herself go outdoors in her own backyard. She isn't happy about her situation, but she can't shake herself out of it, no matter how much her mother and sister try to help her. One night, feeling kind of lustful and lonely, she logs on the internet and orders herself an escort - because, you know, there are some things that even the best vibrator can't do. ;)

Twenty-three-year-old Ryan Hayes is a starving college student who desperately needs money to keep his Alzheimer's suffering grandmother in a decent nursing home. He doesn't mind living in a cockroach-infested appartment, but his grandmother deserves the best for all she's done for him since childhood. So what's a boy to do under such circumstance? Become a high-end prostitute, of course!

Ryan's first client turns out to be Monica and they hit it off - on and off the bed - right away. The problem is, neither can forget that they aren't "normal" people having a date, so when the night is over, he leaves without knowing if he'll ever see her again. Oh, she does want to see him again, but she can't afford another date appointment with him... unless she doesn't have to eat everyday and manages to save some extra money. Desperate times call for desperate measures!

As Ryan and Monica meet again and again, their feelings get in the way of their "business transaction" and insecurity enters the picture. Can they get past their personal problems and find a way to be together for good? Grandma still needs care, so it isn't like Ryan can quit his job in a blink of an eye. Is Monica willing to share him with his clients? Hmmm...

I've got to say that when I started reading this book, I thought Ryan would be a "fake" escort whose first client turns out to be the love of his life and he would never have to service any other client. Well, I was wrong and Ms. Dee didn't shy away from describing Ryan's appointments. Let me tell you, he deserved being well paid for some of the stuff his kinky clients asked him to do. Strangely enough, that part of Ryan's life didn't turn me off as I'd expected - probably because Ms. Dee wouldn't stop stating how much he disliked what he did. That was fine at first, but it became too much halfway through the story because it felt like Ms. Dee was trying too hard to make me "forgive" him for being a prostitute. He didn't need to be "forgiven", he needed to get out of it if that bothered him that much.

Monica's agoraphobia was a nice and believable plot device to make me sympathize with her hiring an escort to fulfill her sexual needs. As someone who never left her house, how else was she supposed to find a sex partner, right? ;) Thankfully, that was the only time her disorder played a major role in Ryan and Monica's relationship. He didn't become her ultimate savior, the man who helped her work through her problems and taught her how to find her place in the outside world again. Nope. She managed to work on that without him, with the meddling but loving help of her mother and sister, and I was glad it was done that way. After all, she might be in love with Ryan, but he wasn't the answer to all her problems.

As this is an erotica/romantica novel, let's talk about the sex scenes, shall we? They were hot, diverse and, yes, kinky. There was masturbation, missionary/conventional sex, "backdoor" loving, some D/s play, a rape fantasy scene, ménage... and that's when things got a little too crazy for me. **SPOILER** Even though Monica was the one who wanted to have a ménage session with Ryan and another man, she didn't feel quite at ease when reality hit and Travis, "the other man" Ryan chose for her, started to make his moves on her. Maybe she'd have felt more comfortable if Ryan had arrived with Travis, but he was late and she was left to her own devices. Sensing how jittery she is, Travis offers her some Ecstasy "to loosen her up and enhance her experience that evening" and, instead of "Just Saying No", she takes the small tablet and swallows it with a sip of margarita. Way to go, Monica! That will definitely make you enjoy the ménage better! When Ryan finally arrives, she's higher than a kite and eager to get things started. Intrigued by her behavior, he asks Travis what he's given her. Does Ryan beat the crap out of his co-worker when he learns that Monica has been drugged? No! He chastises Travis very lightly, asks Monica if she's okay and then joins them in all his randy glory, determined to fulfill her ultimate fantasy. Gah! Call me a narrow-minded prude, but I hated how both Monica and Ryan didn't think much of taking drugs like that. At one point, I wasn't sure anymore if Monica knew what she was doing! **END SPOILER**

All things considered, this was still a good read. I like Ms. Dee's writing, the premise of the book and its development were nicely done, the characters (including the secondary ones) were likable and the sex scenes where sizzling hot - minus the one I mentioned in the spoiler above, that is. Do I recommend this bok? Well, if you don't mind being constantly reminded how "saintly" Ryan is and you have no issues regarding what happens between three two and a half consenting adults, I say it's worth giving it a try.

Note: Even though I've mentioned Ryan's and Monica's age in my review, I'm not sure how old they really are because somewhere near the end of the book, Ryan himself says he's six years younger than her. As far I as know, twenty-seven minus twenty-three equals four. I'm not a math genius, but I'm positive about that, LOL.

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Review: "Blood Brothers" by Nora Roberts

Blood Brothers (Sign of Seven, #1)Blood Brothers by Nora Roberts

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm a Noraholic but I was a bit disappointed with the last NR books I read, the Key trilogy, so I didn't know what to expect from this book. As I've learned the hard way, high expectations can be deadly, so my wariness towards this new trilogy ended up working in its favor as I really enjoyed this first book in the series and I'm definitely going to read the next ones.

Caleb Hawkins, Fox O'Dell and Gage Turner shared the same birthday (July 7th, 1977) and had been best friends their whole lives. On their tenth birthday, they decided to celebrate the date at the Pagan Stone, a somewhat "mystical" place deep in the woods of Hawkins Hollow where an ancient battle of good vs evil had taken place more than three hundred years before. In a typical behavior of ten-year-old boys - well, typical for the PNR world -, they soon came up with the idea of becoming "blood brothers" at midnight, right on time with the moment the seventh day of the sevnth month was born. As we all know, seven is a cabalistic number so it's a sure bet no good deed came from that... When Cal, Fox and Gage joined their cut wrists and mixed their blood, the demon who had been trapped in the aforementioned battle was released and the three boys' lives were changed forever. From that moment on, all hell broke loose in the town of Hawkins Hollow around July 7th every 7 years. Animals attacked their beloved owners, people went crazy, killed each other then themselves, it was mayhem all over town. Now, almost twenty-one years after their blood pact, Cal, Fox and Gage were still trying, with no success so far, to find a way to vanquish the demon they had inadvertently released. Unfortunately, the demon's evil power had grown stronger over the years and, this time around, they had to put a definitive end to this war - or die trying.

Blood Brothers was Cal's book, but Fox and Gage played very strong secondary characters in the story. I loved seeing them interact with each other, and I think NR is a master at writing male-male friendship. I admit I enjoyed reading their scenes together better than I liked seeing Cal with Quinn, and there was my "problem" with this book. Quinn - I hated the name, I had to keep reminding myself it was the heroine's and not some guy's name - was okay but a bit too assertive. I've seen her type before and it's fair to say she was a typical NR heroine, which I usually have no problem with, but something was missing in her character and I didn't connect with her. As a result, the romance part of this book wasn't as exciting as I wanted it to be. Cal and Quinn made a nice couple, but their journey to their HEA was lukewarm and kind of boring. A little bit of angst and conflict in their relationship would have been more than welcome, IMHO.

What saved this book for me was the PNR/suspense part. It was very well done, and I got goosebumps every time the demon made an appearance. Maybe I'm easily scared, but I made sure my bedroom window was tightly shut and the curtains were firmly closed when I went to sleep after finishing this book, LOL. After all the build-up, the ending wasn't as frightening as I was expecting but that was fine considering this was only the 1st book in the series and the "final battle" had yet to happen.

All in all, this was a very good start to the Sign of Seven trilogy and I can't wait to read Fox's and Gage's books. I sense The Pagan Stone, Gage's book, is going to be the best in the series, since he's the most complex and tortured of the three heroes. We shall see...

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Review: "Ransom" by Julie Garwood

Ransom (Highlands' Lairds, #2)Ransom by Julie Garwood

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was only my 2nd book by Julie Garwood, following The Secret, and I think I found a new (to me) author to glom. I just loved these books!

Brodick Buchanan was a secondary character in The Secret that had "hero" tattooed on his forehead, so I was more than happy when I found out that Ransom was "his" book. He was the typical alpha hero and we all know what happens when this kind fall in love. They fall hard and forever, but not always have the grace of acknowledging the fall, LOL. Brodick was just like that, and it was funny to see him trying to deal with it. When he told Gillian that she loved him, I giggled like a schoolgirl. And when he tricked her into marrying him, I laughed like a lunatic. That was one short-lived Big Misunderstanding I had no problem with. "On a horse? I was married on a horse?" Too funny! I doubt Brodick would get away with his antics in real life but he just turned out to be one of my favorite heroes in Romancelandia.

Gillian was perfect match for Brodick. She didn't need to be coddled, which was refreshing when it comes to heroines in Romancelandia. Not that she was harsh or anything like that, she was just strong and independent. And yet, once she fell in love with Brodick, she wasn't afraid to admit she needed him to make her happier and she enjoyed talking and sharing her feelings with him. If I have a minor quibble about her, it's her behavior near the end of the story, when she almost drove her uncle crazy with her crying over Brodick: it was a bit out of character but, all things considered, it didn't bother me much. It did make me smile imagining her uncle's "suffering". :)

As for the plot, I was a little confused in the beginning: there were so many players and so much going on that I felt kind of dizzy. Why hadn't Gillian been killed by the villainous Baron Alford? Was Gillian's sister truly alive? How did Gillian and Alec meet considering how prisoners are supposed to be kept isolated? So many questions... Thankfully, everything started making sense soon enough and there was no stopping after that. Great story!

There was a secondary love story involving Ramsey Sinclair, a friend of Brodick's who also appeared in The Secret, and Bridgid, a member of the Sinclair clan. It was nice, funny but underdeveloped. Ramsey and Bridgid were very interesting characters, their (few) interactions were funny and entertaining, and I think they deserved a book fully dedicated to telling their story. I didn't get to see the build-up of their relationship, especially on Ramsey's side, so it was kind of disappointing to see their HEA crammed into Brodick and Gillian's.

This was a long book (546 pages) but, frankly, it didn't feel like it. It was filled with romance (duh!), humor, action, intrigue, suspense, some angst, and wonderful characters that I couldn't help but love. A true keeper!

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