Monday, February 28, 2011

Review: "Lone Star Trouble" by Autumn Piper

Lone Star TroubleLone Star Trouble by Autumn Piper

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

First, let me admit that I'm always wary of freebies, even though I can't resist their allure. Is it free? Gimme! :) Lone Star Trouble was one of the freebies given away by All Romance eBooks last December, but contrary to the norm, I was excited to read it. Based on the raving reviews and 5-star ratings I'd seen on different websites, I thought I was in for a nice treat. Well, color me sadly surprised...

Kiersten Day isn't too fond of Texans - for reasons that are still unclear to me - and billionaire cattleman CJ Howell is her current nemesis. He wants to buy her family ranch and has resorted to all kinds of dirty tactics and veiled threats to convince her to sell, but she isn't budging. A series of wrong assumptions leads Kiersten to believe that Cleve ( Cleveland), one of CJ Howell's sons, is just a mere employee of her nemesis. Cleve keeps quiet, hoping to gain her friendship - and something more - so he can find a peaceful solution for the feud between her and his father. Needless to say, Cleve's secret is revealed soon enough and... it's no big deal. Say what?! Yup, that's right. The Earth doesn't stop turning and Kiersten doesn't blow a gasket. She isn't happy, of course - but her reaction is quite subdued considering the explosive nature she has.

That didn't make sense in the context of the story and that was when I realized I wasn't getting it because this book was too "busy", with several secondary(?) characters and storylines that only served to confuse me. We had (1) Kiersten's grandfather, who was sick but refused to go to the doctor's, (2) Kiersten's friend Nate, who was in love with her even though he was gay(?!), (3) Cleve's twin brother Clay, who was also gay and sparked Nate's interest even though Nate was in love with Kiersten(?!), (4) Kiersten's deceased husband's friend Tracy, who was on trial for statutory rape (and something else I don't remember) and hated her guts, (5) CJ's longtime friend/employee Chaz, a chauvinist who hated Kiersten's guts, ... Phew! I could go on, but I think I've already made my point.

That multitude of characters and subplots hurt the development of Kiersten's and Cleve's characters and their relationship. I'm sorry to say, but I didn't like Kiersten. She was one of those heroines who thinks that being strong and independent means being bitchy. I understood she'd been through a lot, but her groundless prejudice against all things Texan, her potty mouth and her agressive demeanor prevented me from caring for her. As for Cleve, he was a nice guy - and that's all I can say about him. He was so bland that it was almost as if he was a secondary character. Overall, I didn't buy the "love" between Kiersten and Cleve and, blasphemy, I thought she had better chemistry with Nate than with Cleve! That was the ultimate blow. When I don't believe in the connection between the H/h in a romance book, the story is pretty much ruined for me.

Another thing that really bugged me was the way Ms. Piper wrote some - not all - of her Texan characters' speech. Here's a quote from the book:

"Hello there. Miz Day, Ah presume? Ah'm Charles. Chaz, most folks call me. Ah come to talk bizness."

Gah! That was so OTT and annoying, I had to take a deep breath whenever Chaz and CJ Howell, who also spoke like that, uttered a line. Cleve's and Clay's lines weren't written like that, even though they were as Texan as their father CJ and Chaz. Why the distinction? Only Ms. Piper knows for sure. My guess is, CJ and Chaz were old generation and sneaky, while Cleve and Clay were "modern" and trustworthy.

So there you have it: I didn't like this book - and I'm wondering what's "wrong" with me because it looks like I'm the only reader who didn't... Anyway, I didn't hate it either so I'm not striking Ms. Piper off my list for good, but if I come upon another book by her in the future, I won't let myself be too excited by no matter how many 5-star reviews I see.

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Review: "Feeling the Heat" by Rhonda Nelson

Feeling the HeatFeeling the Heat by Rhonda Nelson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cute, sexy and funny read, with interesting characters and a nice plot tying them up. Unlike many Blaze books, Linc and Georgia didn't jump into bed the moment - or the day/night after - they met. They got to spend some time together, thanks to her sleazy ex-boyfriend who stole her mother's engagement ring and ran away. So when they finally did it, there was more than lust driving them. Niiice!

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Review: "Barenaked Jane" by Deanna Lee

Barenaked JaneBarenaked Jane by Deanna Lee

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3 1/2 stars

I really liked Undressing Mercy, the previous book in this series, so I was very excited to read its sequel. Has Barenaked Jane lived up to my expectations? Hmmm...

Jane Tilwell, who was Mercy's funny and smart-mouthed Assistant in the previous book, is the new Assistant Director at the Holman Gallery now. She's very independent and doesn't have the slightest interest in any romantic relationship. Oh, she does like sex as much as the next woman and she even has a "2 AM friend" (aka backup sex partner), but she doesn't do commitment.

Mathias Montgomery, who happens to be Mercy's future brother-in-law, is the secure consultant hired by the Holman Gallery to revamp the building's outdated security system. He's arrogant, bossy and the kind of guy Jane says she hates. She knows he's trouble with a capital T and she's determined to avoid him, but her brain turns to mush when he's near. So when he shows up at her door and proposes a weekend of no-holds-barred sex so one can get the other out of their system, lust prevails and she can't say no. But even the simplest affair can get complicated when emotions are at play, as they learn soon enough. So what will happen when Monday comes? Will they be able to go back to seeing each other as mere professional coworkers? What if Mathias wants more? Will Jane be willing to give?

This book was narrated by Jane, and I'm not a fan of 1st person POV. As expected, Barenaked Jane had the same problem I found in Undressing Mercy: I didn't get to know the hero - in this case, Mathias - as well as I got to know the heroine - in this case, Jane. On that note, all I can say about Mathias is that he was absolutely purrfect. Just see it for yourself:


Very nice, huh? ;)

As for Jane, she wasn't the same spunky woman I met in the previous book. She was still smart-mouthed, but her insecurities seemed to be a bit forced. I could understand if she had some level of insecurity due to her background, but not the almost all-consuming insecurity that molded her behavior. Despite that, I still liked her.

Plot-wise, this was a good read with an engaging storyline. The opening scene was great and very catchy, but the overall writing had problems. The little drama involving Jane's "2 AM friend" was interesting, but the resolution was anticlimactic. Some scenes had abrupt endings and didn't connect one event to the next smoothly. The ending was so abrupt that I found myself clicking the "Prev Page" and "Next Page" a few times, thinking that my eReader was acting up and hiding the last pages of the book. The love scenes were hot but repetitive, so I found myself commiting the ultimate sin and skimming through them after a while.

All in all, I had a nice time reading this book - the first half was really good - and I plan to read the next in the series. Hopefully, it'll be better than this one and as good as the first one.

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Review: "One Dark Night" by Jaid Black

One Dark NightOne Dark Night by Jaid Black

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What would you expect from an author who's not only famous for her erotica/romantica books but is also the founder of Ellora's Cave, the world's first & foremost publisher of erotic romance for women? A scorchingly hot read that will leave you tingling and breathless, right? Well, you won't find that in this book. This is a straight romantic suspense novel - and there's nothing wrong with that. :)

Dr. Nicole "Nikki" Adenike is a successful trauma surgeon who secretly fantasizes about being sexually dominated in the bedroom. Knowing she can't simply start divulging her fantasy to her friends and coworkers in hopes of finding a Master to fulfill it, she's resigned to the fact that she'll never get to live it - until she stumbles upon a website dedicated to Dom/sub matching and meets Richard. He's a Dominant who's looking for a submissive and seems to be exactly what the doctor (aka Nikki, LOL) ordered, so they start exchanging emails. Nikki is smart enough to create a new (and supposedly untraceable) email account and never gives him any personal information that could identify her. She even hires a private detective to investigate him when their online relationship becomes more "serious" (i.e. she's contemplating meeting him in person) because she knows better than to believe what people say on the internet.

In the meanwhile... A serial killer is targeting strong, successful women in the city. Detective Thomas Cavanah has been hunting Lucifer, as the press has dubbed the killer, for over nine years but is still nowhere near to catching him. Lucifer never leaves any evidence and Thomas' frustration only grows over time. Will the police ever catch the vicious killer?

Well, it doesn't take a genius to know where the story goes from there so that's all the plot summary you'll get in this review. As predictable as the plot was, I still enjoyed this read because all the characters were well developed and interesting. Secondary characters weren't there just to fill empty spaces, they had lives and problems of their own and, in turn, added depth to Thomas' and Nikki's life. That also made the mystery/suspense part of the story more thrilling, because almost anyone could be Lucifer. I was sure I knew who he was, but his identity surprised the heck out of me. Well done, Ms. Black!

The relationship between Thomas and Nikki took some time to be developed - in fact, they only met around the second 1/4 of the book - but the wait was worth it. I loved them together! They were smart, funny, sexy, and very honest without being insensitive. I had no problem believing they fell in love with each other in such a short time (less than a month) and would live happily ever after.

As this is a Jaid Black book, I feel I must comment on the love scenes. There are three sex scenes in the book, and only one of them is detailed. It was hot and the D/s play wasn't too heavy, which made sense considering that neither Thomas nor Nikki were experts on the subject. However, I have to say that I started laughing when Thomas growled, "Who's your Daddy?" Sorry, but the word "Daddy" in the bedroom is a libido killer to me. Anyway, that didn't ruin the book, just the sex scene.

All in all, this was a very good read. The plot was formulaic, but I don't think there's anything wrong with following a formula that works. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

And just because I feel like adding some steam to this review to compensate for the lack of it in the book, here's a sneak peek at Thomas and Nikki "playing" in the bedroom:


To be accurate, Nikki was never blindfolded when they "played" in the book, but I'm sure she will be some time in the (not so distant) future. ;)

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Review: "Ty's Temptation" by Patrice Michelle

Ty's TemptationTy's Temptation by Patrice Michelle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As it happened with Harm's Hunger, the 1st book in this series, I found myself enjoying this story even though it was fairly predictable and some of the characters' actions didn't make sense. I think I just like Ms. Michelle's writing, period.

Note: The book blurb made me think that Ty and Evan's love scenes would involve bondage, but that was not the case. Their love scenes were hot - hey, this is an EC book - but the kinkiest thing they did was watch the other masturbate.

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Review: "Harm's Hunger" by Patrice Michelle

Harm's HungerHarm's Hunger by Patrice Michelle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow, I'm impressed at how much I've enjoyed this read. This (very short) story could have gone seriously wrong with me because Harm and Jena had one of those insta-love relationships that require a huge suspension of disbelief to work, but somehow Ms. Michelle made me overlook that.

Here's the gist of the story: Harm and Jena meet, lust takes over and, minutes later, they're jumping each other's bones before introducing themselves and exchanging the most simple pleasantries; then they become "enemies" when they find out the other's identity (he wants to buy her ranch, she isn't sure she wants to sell it); then they have a minor car accident and he loses his memory; she takes advantage of the situation to try and smooth things between them, they fall in love... and we all know what happens next. But here's the exceptional twist to this fairly common plot: all that happens in the span of 24 hours! Yes, Harm and Jena go from being complete strangers to engaged to be married in one single day!

You must be thinking I'm crazy for giving this book 4 stars, but what can I say? I really liked it. I know the story was unrealistic, but I liked Harm and Jena: they were nice and fun, their love scenes were sexy and hot (once I got past the sex-with-strangers setup) and I wanted them to be together. At the end of the day, that's what matters when I read a romance book, no matter how unbelivable the story is. It's all in the writing: some authors can make me buy anything, others can't. Based on this read, Ms. Michelle belongs in the former group.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Review: "Undressing Mercy" by Deanna Lee

Undressing MercyUndressing Mercy by Deanna Lee

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First off, let me show you how I pictured Shamus while I was reading this book:


("Check out these abs," he says. "Aren't they to die for?" Oh yeah! LOL)

Now, on to the review...

Mercy Rothell works as Assistant Director at the Holman Gallery and her professional life couldn't be better. She's only a few months away from being promoted to Director and signing up internationally known artist Shamus Montgomery for a showing at the art gallery will only consolidate her position and thwart the current Director's attempts to dismiss her. Mercy is willing to do anything to secure the contract with Shamus Just-Call-Me-Shame Montgomery and she inadvertently lets him know that before he signs it. Shame, who has no shame (come on, you knew this bad pun was coming!), takes advantage of the situation and tricks her into agreeing to pose for him - in the nude, of course.

Despite her best intentions, Mercy finds herself strongly attracted to Shame - and she doesn't know how to deal with it. She's still not over the traumatic event she went through 2 years ago, so having her sexuality suddenly aroused by Shame scares her. Will she run away and hide, as she's been doing for the last couple of years? Or will she finally muster the courage to get her personal life back on track?

This book was narrated by Mercy, and I knew from the start that I would have some problems with that because I'm not a fan of 1st person POV. When I read a romance book, I need to get inside the hero's mind to know and understand him. That is rarely achieved in 1st person narratives and the only exception I've found so far is Jeaniene Frost's Night Huntress series. But I digress...

Despite my initial misgivings, Undressing Mercy turned out to be a very good read. I really liked Mercy and understood her fears and emotional insecurity. Even though I don't have the experience to know it for sure, I thought that her "healing" process was believable. Of course, having Shame as an incentive didn't hurt.

Shame!!! What can I say about him that you can't see in the pic I posted above? Well... I'm afraid I don't have anything to add, as I really didn't get to know him as well as I got to know Mercy. He was hot, yummy and sensitive, but that was all. I blame the 1st person POV for turning Shame into an almost cardboard character.

As for the writing, I think Ms. Lee has done a great job showcasing Mercy's personality through her behavior and actions. The premise of the book made me think that this story would be highly focused on Mercy and Shame's sexual explorations, but that wasn't the case. There was a really good plot moving the story along and the sex scenes weren't there just for show. They were an intrinsic part of Mercy's emotional "healing". They were steamy hot too, of course. ;)

This was my 1st book by Ms. Lee, but I don't think it will be my last. Browsing her backlist, I found out that some secondary characters of this book have their own books too and I'm certainly interested in checking them out.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Review: "Tessa's Pride" by Olivia Brynn

Tessa's PrideTessa's Pride by Olivia Brynn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As this was my first read by Ms. Brynn, I had no expectations when I started to read this book. Now that I've finished, the bar's been set and I've learned to expect a good story with nice, well-drawn characters from her.

Tessa McCade is a young woman determined to make it in the testosterone-driven horse-breeding business. She's been quite successful running the Bradley Equine Ranch (BER) in the past few years, proving that a woman can own and run a stock farm as well as any man, but now she's on the verge of bankruptcy: forty (almost all) of her horses had been diagnosed with Equine infectious anemia (EIA) and had to be euthanized, leaving her with just two studs and three mares - and no livelihood.

Joshua Bradley should have been the owner of the BER by birthright, but he let his father buy him out and left the ranch - and Tessa - when it became clear that the two men were too strong headed to work together. When his father died unexpectedly one year ago, Josh was the only one who wasn't surprised when Tessa was named the new owner of the BER. Unbeknownst to her, he's always kept track of her while they were apart and when news about her predicament reaches his ears, he decides it's time he went back to the BER. Will that be just for the time it takes to help Tessa get back on her feet or for good?

I really liked Tessa and Josh. She was strong and independent, but not extremely so. Sometimes authors push too hard and make their heroines act too stubbornly just to prove their strength and independence, but Ms. Brynn knew where to draw the line. Tessa cried when crying was due and knew how to accept help without seeing it as a threat to her independence. Josh was a dream hero: caring, protective without being overbearing and oh-so-sexy - as in "I want to eat him with a spoon and lick it until my tongue cramps", LOL. After such statement, do I really need to say that Tessa and Josh had great sexual chemistry? Yeah, I didn't think so. (To get a sample of how hot Tessa and Josh's chemistry is, go to Ms. Brynn's website and read Tempting Tessa, a free - and very steamy - prequel to Tessa's Pride.)

This was a short story and the ending suffered from it, but Ms. Brynn's writing was solid and good enough to develop a sweet love story with a little bit of mystery considering the word count limitation. The ending was rushed and I didn't like being simply told what happened, but the epilogue (kind of) made up for it.

All in all, I enjoyed my foray into Ms. Brynn's work and I can see myself reading her again in the future.

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

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Review: "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off" by Cara North

Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off (Country Music Collection, #1)Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off by Cara North

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First off, let me say that I love the title of this book: it's funny, catchy and lets you know right away that you aren't supposed to take the story too seriously. Just relax and enjoy, that's what it says.

Bethany Dodson is the classic poor rich girl. As the only child of a wealthy business, she's had everything money can buy - as long as she doesn't bother her parents with silly demands for attention or love. But she's had enough of that. She's 30 years old, still a virgin - because no man has ever had the courage to defy her father - and about to be married to a man - chosen by her father, of course - in what is nothing more than a business transaction. It's time she gave her life a new direction - and Vegas is the place to ditch her old self and become a new woman. The first thing to do? Trick some innocent guy into marrying her, so she can change her last name and get a new ID. Now, where can she find a nice and gullible guy to marry?

Jack Jonhson and his siblings (Heath, Rafe and Jan) want to get the neglected family ranch they've inherited back to business, but they don't have the necessary funds to do it because their grandfather's will estipulates that they have to be over 25 years old and married for more than 3 months in order to receive any inheritance money. Jack goes to Vegas, hoping to convince a former girlfriend to marry and stay married to him for 3 months. When she asks for half of his inheritance to agree to the sham marriage, Jack refuses - he needs all the money to invest on the ranch - and is back to the beginning. Where can he find a woman to marry at short notice? A woman who doesn't have any interest in his money?

By fate, Bethany and Jack meet - in Vegas, of course -, down some several tequila shots, make out in the elevator and decide to get married - all the while, one thinking he/she is oh-so-smart and is tricking the other into marriage. The morning after, the truth is revealed - and without temper tantrums or accusations, they decide to head to Jack's ranch in Montana and fulfill the terms of his grandfather's will, agreeing that both of them benefit from their sham marriage. Will that be enough to "unlock" Jack's inheritance money? As for Bethany, will her father and her fiancé let her "escape" that easily? What about the unexpected feelings that Jack and Bethany start developing for each other? Will all be over after their 3-month marriage?

This was "just" an okay read to me. Jack and Bethany were nice, Jack's siblings were well-drawn but not particularly unforgettable, Bethany's fiancé was unpleasant but not hateful, Jack and Bethany's interactions were sometimes funny, sometimes sweet and sometimes downright steamy hot and kinky, but there was something missing. There was no real conflict in the story and although some readers might find that refreshing, I found myself wishing for an earthquake to shake things up. Considering their temporary arrangement, Jack and Bethany were wary of falling in love, of course, but the whole thing felt a bit bland to me. Maybe they were just the kind of people who aren't prone to outbursts of emotion, I don't know.

Last but not least, I have to comment on Ms. North's writing. English isn't my native language so I'm not the best person to correct anyone's English writing, but there were several grammatical and spelling errors in this book. Each time I found an error, I had to stop and think if my first impression was wrong or that was actually an error. Very annoying. :(

This was only my 1st read by Ms. North, so I can't say if the things that bothered me in this book are common or just a fluke. I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt and I'll have no problem giving her another try in the future.

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Review: "Like Clockwork" by Bonnie Dee

Like ClockworkLike Clockwork by Bonnie Dee

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was my first steampunk book and I didn't know what to expect. I chose this book to be my introduction to this genre for two reasons: the author (I'm familiar with Ms. Dee's writing and I liked what I've already read by her) and the length (If I didn't like the genre, I wouldn't have to struggle to finish a full-length book). I also liked the premise, but that goes without saying.

The Prologue came as a complete and nice surprise: it was creepy and violent, setting a dark tone to the story. The sense of imminent danger was present throughout the whole book, not only with the threat of another attack by a serial killer known as the Southwark Slasher but also with a potential popular uprising against the Commission for Animatronic Affairs. As much as I liked that setup, it was too much for a short story: there was no way Ms. Dee could have delve into all that without hurrying things up, and that prevented me from connecting with the characters.

I liked Dash and Victoria, but their romance felt contrived. Love at first sight is complicated on itself, but some authors can make it work and I was willing to buy it because I knew this was a short story. Having Dash and Victoria come from completely different social classes would be a great point of conflict in a full-length book, but it fell flat on this short story because, once again, there weren't enough pages to delve into that.

So, what I'm saying is, this would have been a great full-length book. As it was, it was an okay read. I was disappointed only because I "knew" this could have been a winner.

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

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Review: "Healing Hearts" by Taryn Kincaid

Healing HeartsHealing Hearts by Taryn Kincaid

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

2 1/2 stars (rounded down to 2 stars because I was disappointed to see a good premise "wasted" like this)

This book has most of the key ingredients to a good romance: an emotionally and physically damaged hero who can't forget the horrors of war + a tortured heroine who blames the hero for her brother's death on the battlefield and is in dire straits due to her father's gambling debts + angsty conflicts heightened by the hero's sense of guilt and inadequacy + steamy love scenes. Unfortunately, all that is crammed into the word limit of a short story - and the overall result is a very rushed romance that failed to grab me.

I wish this had been a full-length book, because I liked Ms. Kincaid's writing and I think I would have enjoyed it better if I didn't feel like I had to run to keep up with Adam and Emma's more than fast "courtship". As it was, it was hard to connect with their emotions because whenever I started to feel an empathy for them, they changed and I was bereft. Adam and Emma spent a lot of time thinking to themselves and not so much talking to each other. Their inner dialogues gave me a good insight into their feelings so I could (sort of) see why one would fall in love with the other, but I couldn't understand how that happened considering their lack of verbal interaction and their inability to read minds. At the end of the day, and I mean that literally because the whole story happens in the span of a few hours, it was hard to buy their HEA.

All in all, I can't say I liked this book. I didn't hate it either, and that's the best thing I can say about it.

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

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Review: "Nothing Personal" by Jaci Burton

Nothing PersonalNothing Personal by Jaci Burton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If Ms. Burton ever decides to switch genres, moving from writing her current erotica/romantica books to writing Harlequin Presents books, Nothing Personal is testament to her ability to do it.

This book really reads like a HP novel: (1) hero (coldhearted, multimillionaire boss) marries heroine (his shy, virgin assistant) to fulfill the terms of his grandfather's crazy will and save his business; (2) heroine gets a makeover and "blossoms" under hero's influence; (3) hero's iciness thaws under heroine's gentle care; (4) (un)expected Big Misunderstanding throws them apart; (5) Conflict is solved; (6) true love vows are exchanged, smooch fest begins... and they live happily ever after.

What can I say? It was formulaic and predictable, but I kind of liked it. Ryan's reaction to Faith's "blossoming" was (unintentionally?) funny - he seemed to like the word "wow" a lot - and he could be charming when he put his mind to it. Faith was too naïve to ring true and I came to the conclusion that she did need to wear glasses all the time - and not only for reading - due to the way she used to see herself in the mirror before Ryan "revamped" her.

Overall, this wasn't a bad read. I'd have enjoyed it better if Faith's innocence wasn't so annoying, though.

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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Review: "Lust" by Charlotte Featherstone

LustLust by Charlotte Featherstone

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't judge books for their covers, but I have to want to start this review saying that I think the cover of this book is beau-ti-ful and fits the title perfectly. Having said that, I'm shallow enough to point out that the male model on the cover isn't exactly my type and I replaced him with someone else. Here's "my" Thane:



It is said that the fey have always lived amongst mortals, their world lying parallel to ours. They live in two courts; the good faeries belong to the Seelie Court, where gaiety and light reign. Opposite to the Seelie Fey are the Dark Fey, those who live in the Unseelie Court, or the unholy court as it is known. These dark faeries are mysterious and sensual, well versed in pleasures of the flesh. It is said that to look upon them and their beauty is to be drawn into their erotic, voluptuous world, and once there, your fate is sealed, your body and will no longer your own.

And this is precisely what happened once, long, long ago, to a beautiful queen of the Seelie Court, who had the misfortune to catch the eye of the Dark Fey king.

Immediately, the king was besotted with the queen, driven to possess her at all costs. Queen Aine was all the king could think about, but Aine spurned him, forcing King Duir to steal her away from her golden court as she slept. Like Persephone taken to the underworld, Duir brought Aine to his dark court, plying her with his erotic skills. The Unseelie king was certain he could win Aine, but the queen despised Duir. Long had she plotted against her captor, vowing to leave the king and his court behind, but Duir kept her prisoner, a concubine for his dark pleasures.

The queen’s loathing of the king festered, until she could think of nothing but revenge. Fueled by hatred, Aine searched for a way to break free — all to no avail. Until one day, she was delivered of the king’s twin sons. Enraptured by his progeny, and grateful to the queen for giving him such a gift, Duir became less watchful, allowing the queen new freedoms, and it was then that Aine found a way to leave his court.

One night she stole away, taking with her one of her sons, the golden-haired child who was the image of her Seelie self, leaving behind his dark-haired brother who bore his father’s resemblance. As she fled, Aine placed a spell on the Unseelie Court, that it whither away, never to thrive again until the Dark Fey could make a woman give herself to him of her own free will. As well, she cursed the sons of Duir’s siblings — and any future male children of the king — with each cardinal sin, further destroying her own dark son’s chances of finding a virtuous woman who would give herself willingly.

To this day, the queen’s spell holds strong. The Unseelie Court is dying. There is but one hope for the court — to find the seven women who represent the virtuous aspects of humanity. Seven women who embody chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness and humility. Women whose very being calls to the sins deeply buried in each prince, sins that are eager to corrupt, through erotic pleasure, their virtues.

If the court is to survive, the fey princes will have to find a way to make the virtues follow them willingly, while satisfying the basic needs of their sins. Sins, of which perhaps, each virtue is ready for a taste.

Unlike most mortal men, the Duke of Lennox is more than aware that faeries exist and knows how powerful they are. The birth of his four twin daughters (Mary, Prudence, Chastity and Mercy) was foretold by the faery queen, who infused within him the virtues to be passed on to each one of them. And so, each daughter was born possessing the moralities that would define her - humility, temperance, chastity and kindness. They've been raised to believe that their purpose in life lies in the fey world and know that they were created for some mystical, and maybe sinister, reason.

Thane is the Dark Fey prince cursed with the sin of Lust and his intended virtue is pure and righteous Chastity Lennox. When he meets her, the sin in him wants to pounce and take her, but Thane knows that he has to woo Chastity carefully before he can corrupt her and convince her to follow him to his dark court willingly. But how will Thane be able to keep his sin under control when everything about Chastity tempts him beyond reason?

Wow, this was a very hot read! As a man (or fey?) driven by lust, Thane oozed sex appeal and was as wicked as he could be. I really liked him and wouldn't mind following him to the Unseelie Court willingly, LOL. Chastity was likeable enough, but her self-righteousness bothered me. I know she was supposed to be a paragon of virtue and all that, but she still annoyed me a couple of times. The sexual chemistry between Thane and Chastity was off the charts and their interactions (in and outside the bedroom) were deliciously sinful, thanks to Ms. Featherstone's sensuous writing. I especially liked the scenes where Thane went to Chastity as mist, surrounding her with his scent.

Now, as much as I liked this book, I have to say that I finished it without being 100% sure that Chastity loved Thane. I have no doubt that she was in lust with him, but love? I don't know. He had the opportunity to spend time with her unnoticed - you have to read the book to understand that - and thus got to know her, making his falling in love with her believable. She never got to know him that well, because he hid his true self from her for the most part of the story. How can you fall in love with someone you don't really know?

All in all, this was a very enjoyable read. The beginning was a little slow and a bit confusing with the introduction of several characters all at once - I had a hard time remembering who was who and associating each character to his/her sin or virtue - but once the focus was directed to Thane and Chastity, the story picked up the pace. Being the first book in the series, Lust was a bit bogged down by the need to set up the background of the series, but that was more than worth it because I can't wait for the next book. Is it out yet? ;P

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

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Review: "Midnight Velvet" by Jaci Burton

Midnight VelvetMidnight Velvet by Jaci Burton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to say I was a bit wary when I started to read this book, because my first experience with JB hadn't been a pleasant one. But I'm always willing to give authors another chance - unless my first read is traumatic enough to scare me for life - and this book seemed to be a good choice: the premise was interesting and I liked the Asian chick on the cover. How often do we find romance novels featuring an Asian heroine, right? Well, I should've know better than to trust the cover a book, because the heroine in this book is as American as apple pie. That wasn't a bad thing - hey, I love apple pie! - but I was a tad disappointed. At the end of the day, the heroine's race didn't really matter and this read turned out to be very enjoyable.

Nevada James, code name Velvet, has worked as an analyst for the National Crime Agency (NCA) for years, since she graduated from college, but now that she's been accepted into the field agent training program, her days as an information gatherer are all but over. She can't wait to get started on her new assignment, but she's got to go through this last day on her current job first. Would it be too much to ask that nothing major ruins this day? Well, yeah.

Tyler Call, code name Midnight, is one of NCA's best field agents. Following his father's footsteps, he lives for his job and is quite satisfied with the carefree, no-strings-attached relationships he's had through the years. One could say that Velvet - as per NCA security protocols, he doesn't know her real name - is the only woman (besides his mother) who's been a constant in his life in a while. Used to having Velvet as his NCA contact whenever he's on a mission, Tyler relishes the calming effect her voice has on him - not to mention the X-rated fantasies that same voice elicits when his mind wanders to places it shouldn't.

Naturally, fate wants Tyler and Nevada to meet, even if it has to make Nevada do something TSTL that puts their lives in danger. Anyway, fate wins: they meet, they run and hide from the bad guys, they bicker (just a little and nowhere near the way Lora Leigh's H/h do) and they come to a truce eventually. Charged with protecting Nevada from the bad guys and also initiating her field training, Tyler realizes he's in trouble when all he can think about is having wild monkey sex with her. If only she didn't return his feelings, he might have a chance at resisting the temptation, but she does... Oh yeah!

This book made me tingle in strange places. ;) Before you think this was nothing more than a sexfest, let me assure you that there was a good plot moving the story. Just so you know, Tyler and Nevada only hit the sheets on Chapter 10 - and didn't spend the rest of the book in the bedroom. In this case, less was more and I really enjoyed the buildup and the sexual tension in their relationship. When they finally did it, I felt it was special and it meant something to them.

Tyler was the kind of hero I like in RS: sexy, alpha (that says is all, doesn't it?), yet willing to change and adapt (without losing his alphaness, of course) when faced with the real deal, i.e., Nevada.

Now, Nevada... She was strong, confident and a good match for Tyler, but her TSTL stunt at the beginning of the story marred my overall appreciation of her. She grew on me and even proved that she had a functioning, intelligent mind as the story progressed, but that TSTL moment remained in the back of my mind even though I'm pretty sure she learned from that mistake.

The suspense was good but not riveting. To be fair, I believe Ms. Burton intended to make Tyler and Nevada's relationship the main focus of the story, and that was accomplished. All in all, I had a fun time reading this book - even if I did it in the waiting room of the hospital while my father was being subjected to all kinds of tests to see if he'd had a minor heart attack. BTW, it was a false alarm and he's fine. But that's another story...

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Review: "Fantasmagorical" by Annmarie McKenna

FantasmagoricalFantasmagorical by Annmarie McKenna

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Gabe and Lance, who have been friends and lovers for years, fall "in love" with Evan 15 minutes after meeting her. Yeah, both men fall for her instantly and equally. Then, the happy trio spend all week having sex like bunnies in various combinations (m/f/m, m/m, f/m/m), all the while thinking what a match made in heaven they are. But what will happen when the weekend is over? Will Evan be interested in turning that sex fest into something permanent? Duh.

Sorry, but this story didn't work for me. I didn't feel any emotional connection with the characters and I didn't believe in their relationship for a minute. Considering the premise and the complete lack of character development, love should have been kept out of the picture. I've bought Instant Love stories in the past and I'm sure I'll keep buying others in the future. All I need is an emotional pull: I need to like the characters. That didn't happen in this story, hence the 2-star rating.

Ménage, Calvin Klein style:


Now, that's more like it. :)

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Review: "Captive Bride" by Bonnie Dee

Captive BrideCaptive Bride by Bonnie Dee

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First off, can I say how much I love the cover of this book? It's not only beautiful but it fits the story too! That's quite a rare treat in today's crazy publishing world, LOL.

This was my second read by Ms. Dee and it was another winner. I'm not familiar with her backlist - but I definitely plan to be - so I don't know if this is her niche in writing, but I loved how she wasn't afraid of tackling "controversial" subjects in the two books I've read. So refreshing!

Captive Bride takes place in San Francisco, 1870 - which is an unusual setting in Romancelandia. Just so you get a better understanding of that time and place, here's an excerpt of the Author's Note:

"In 1867 the Pacific Mail Steamship Company began regularly scheduled runs between Hong Kong and San Francisco. Between 1870 and 1883 an average of 12,000 Chinese were arriving in San Francisco each year.

In 1870 California passed a law against the importation of Chinese, Japanese and Mongolian women for the purpose of prostitution.

The Chinese Exclusion Act, passed by Congress in 1882, was the only U.S. law ever to prevent immigration and naturalization on the basis of race."

Chua Huiann is one of those Chinese women who are taken from their home country to be a prostitute in San Francisco. The difference is, she and her parents have been lied to and believe that she's to marry Xie Fuhua, a Chinese businessmen who's made his fortune in America. When Huiann is taken to Xie's Pleasure Palace and finds out what he really wants from her, she pretends to be resigned to her fate in order to buy some time. She manages to escape before her virginity is sold to the highest bidder and runs to hide inside the first shop that catches her attention.

Alan Sommers is a solitary man who's still trying to forget the horrors he suffered during the Civil War. When Huiann bursts through the door of his shop and starts talking to him, he doesn't understand a word she says, but the desperation he sees on her face is enough to convince him to give her shelter from whoever is after her.

And so it begins... Huiann and Alan's relationship is very tentative at first, as one can't understand the other's language and have to communicate through drawings and signs. Alan hires Huiann as a housekeeper so she has a safe place to stay - and hide from her "owner" Xie - and they soon find themselves irrevocably attracted to each other. But what good can come from that? Xie's a powerful man, he wants his "property" back and, on that matter, the law is on his side. And even if Xie wasn't a threat in itself, the "good citizens" of San Francisco wouldn't compliment Alan on marrying Huiann, a woman of "inferior" race. Are Huiann and Alan destined to live in hiding?

This was one of the most romantic books I've read. Yeah, romance books are supposed to be romantic, I know, but this one was different. I don't know how to explain it, I can only say that I was very aware of Huiann and Alan's love for each other during this read. Something in Ms. Dee's writing struck a chord with me, even though I thought it was too poetic now and then.

I did have a problem with the pacing of the story, though. The first half was too slow and very descriptive. I could see why it had to be that way, considering that Huiann couldn't speak English and had to rely on her other senses to understand the new and sometimes frightening world that surrounded her, but I found myself wishing for a faster pace.

Overall, I really liked this book. It had great characters - yes, I mean not only Huiann and Alan, but the secondary characters too - and an engaging story. What's not to like?

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

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Review: "Understood" by Maya Banks

Understood (Unspoken, #1)Understood by Maya Banks

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The premise of this book had potential, but it needed more pages to be developed. As it was, the subject of Ellie's abuse wasn't dealt with the necessary depth to draw me into the story. Jake and Ellie were nice characters, but their HEA felt "forced": I didn't believe she was already emotionally stable to commit herself to him - or any other man, for that matter - and the nervous breakdown she had near the end of the story proved that.

Overall, this wasn't a bad read, but it wasn't good enough to put Ms. Banks on my authors-to-watch list. If I come across one of her other books in the future, I might try it if the premise appeals to me. You won't see me running to get it, though.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Review: "The Bartered Virgin" by Chevon Gael

The Bartered VirginThe Bartered Virgin by Chevon Gael

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

2 1/2 stars (rounded up to 3 stars because I liked the setting)

This story takes place in the early 20th century, when nouveau riche Americans had no qualms about "selling" their daughters into marriage with decadent and near-bankrupt English noblemen for their titles and prestige. Zachariah Percy is one of those nouveau riche Americans and he has a daugther, Winnifred, to barter. David Knightsbridge, the Earl of Wolshingham, is one of those near-bankrupt English nobleman who, thanks to his late father's folly, is in need of funds to restore the Knightsbriar estate to its former glory. So Mr. Percy and David reach an agreement: David and Winn will marry, David will receive her substantial dowry and Mr. & Mrs. Percy's social status will get a boost. It's a win-win situation, except... no one has asked Winn's opinion about it.

Marriage isn't in Winn's immediate plans, especially marriage to a man that she's only met once and doesn't remember that well. However, she can't confront her father - at least, not directly. So she decides to make her unwanted fiancé change his mind and call off the wedding by pretending to be a harlot and convincing him she's an unsuitable bride for him. Naturally, things don't work out exactly as planned... until they do work out too well and Winn finally gets what she wants. Or does she?

I was sold to this book by its premise and setting, and I saw it as a potential 5-star read before I started it. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm dimmed over the course of the story and I didn't feel any connection with David and Winn. Winn was okay but not particularly engaging. Her antics were kind of silly and I suppose I should have found them funny, but alas, they didn't work for me. David was very unlikable at first and I didn't understand what Winn saw in him. I thought he was rather rude in his speech and actions, and I didn't like the way he treated Winn. What kind of (gentle)man takes a woman's virginity and then sends her home in a taxi? Alone. At 3 A.M.! That is not okay in today's age, when (most) women are as independent as they can be, and it was definitely not okay in the early 20th century. Anyway, David got better as the story progressed, but it wasn't enough to win me over.

All in all, this was an okay read. It wasn't altogether bad because the setting was interesting, but I never felt the love between David and Winn. As this is a romance novel, that was disappointing.

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

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Review: "Ink Spots" by Lissa Matthews

Ink SpotsInk Spots by Lissa Matthews

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3 1/2 stars

Big, hulking, bald, tattooed, pierced ex-con and tattoo artist Jaz and blonde, green-eyed independent jewelry-designer-moonlighting-as-waitress Mandi have been lusting after each other for the past 6 months, but none has acted on it - for reasons that are still unclear to me. On Mandi's 40th birhtday, Jaz's (foster) sister Jackie, who happens to be Mandi's boss and friend too, decides to play matchmaker and gives Mandi something someone she's been craving but was afraid to ask for: Jaz. Needless to say, he's more than happy to put himself at Mandi's sexual disposal and become her best birthday present ever. The question is, will that be just a one-day deal or will he be still available after her birthday is over?

Wow, Jaz and Mandi didn't waste any time to get down and dirty. This book singed my fingers and made me look for my fan right from the start, because Jaz and Mandi didn't play coy and had no problem saying (and doing) everything they wanted. While that increased the heat level of the story, it made me question their behavior: if they were so uninhibited like that, why had they circled around each other for 6 months before Jackie had had enough of that and almost literally shoved Jaz into Mandi's arms? Don't you hate it when your brain makes an appearance in the middle of a good erotica/romantica book? LOL

Anyway, this was a nice, steamy read once I put that thought aside. It wasn't as good as Simple Need, my favorite in the series, but it was better than Carnal Ecstasy.

The model on the cover fits Jaz's description - miracles do happen, LOL - but I like "my" Jaz better:


He was a big man, standing six foot four, and within about six inches on either side of being as wide in the shoulders as a standard doorway. That's... big. ;)

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Review: "Carnal Ecstasy" by Lissa Matthews

Carnal EcstasyCarnal Ecstasy by Lissa Matthews

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Vegetables as sex toys? Nah, that is so passé. Beer bottles and pool cues are the hit of the moment, according to Dallon. Yikes!

The happy recipient of Dallon's creative sex plays is Carrie, a 30-year-old woman who's - finally! - gotten tired of living a sheltered life under the influence of her parents and is ready to break loose. Who's better than Dallon, a tattooed bar owner who once lived in the same lifestyle, to help her find her naughty and wild side?

As you may have guessed by the first paragraph above, Dallon and Carrie's affair was very, er, interesting. Dallon's imagination had no limits and Carrie was more than willing to play along with him. I have to say that I was a bit uncomfortable with some of their sexcapades, though. While Dallon was careful enough to use protection (at least, the first times) and clean the beer bottle before using it on Carrie, he didn't show the same concern when it came to the pool cue. I couldn't help thinking how many people had handled that pool cue before. Germophobic much, Dina?

I guess I paid too much attention to those details because I wasn't completely sold on Dallon and Carrie. Dallon was okay, but Carrie was annoying in her inconsistent innocence and bravado. I had a hard time believing that she'd been "brave" enough to lose her virginity, spend the night with boys and even experiment with kissing girls - all that without her parents' knowledge, of course - but had never had the courage to drink a latte or a cappuccino. Did she really think those drinks were more sinful than sex?!?

All things considered, this was still an okay read. I liked Dallon and the sex scenes (sans pool cue) were steamy hot. I didn't think Dallon and Carrie were "soulmates", though.

And just because I have to, here's something to erase the fugly cover from our minds:


How do you like "my" Dallon? I asked him to remove the guitar from his lap so I could take a better shot, but he said it's part of him - after all, he's the guitar player in the band. ;)

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Review: "Simple Need" by Lissa Matthews

Simple NeedSimple Need by Lissa Matthews

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


There isn't much of a plot or character development in this short story, but who cares? Just grab a glass bottle of your favorite wine, relax and enjoy. Vinter and Elise will do the rest. ;)

The model on the cover is pretty hot, but it doesn't hurt to have another visual aid:


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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Review: "Sweet as Sin" by Inez Kelley

Sweet as SinSweet as Sin by Inez Kelley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Don't let the title of this book fool you. This isn't a sweet and playful read. The story is dark, tough and unforgiving - and I loved every punch it threw at me.

John Murphy is a man tormented by his past. A bestselling young-adult author, he writes dark and frightening fantasy books about monsters where good always triumphs and hope can be found behind the darkness. What no one - except his sister Gina - knows is that those monsters are very real in his mind and hope has no real place in his life.

Pastry chef Livvy Andrews, John's new neighbor, isn't anything like his usual one-night stands and he knows better than to start any kind of relationship with her. He can't resist flirting with her, though. Livvy figths the attraction, sensing that John carries a heavy emotional baggage inside him. She's got her own baggage to carry and doesn't need the heartache that will be waiting for her if she gets involved with him. Nonetheless, involved with him she gets, even though she knows he isn't looking for forever or anything close to that. What she doesn't know is how to prevent herself from falling in love with him and how to protect her heart from the onslaught of his inner monsters when they rear their ugly faces.

I loved this book! Its title - yes, I was fooled by it - and its first pages made me think I was in for a nice and easy sexy read. Even though John was described as a man "tormented by nightmares" in the book description, his first appearances in the story led me to believe that his "torment" would be nothing more than a plot device designed to add some conflict to what seemed to be a fun story about a summer fling that eventually turns into love. John was cocky and flirty, with just a hint of darkness and secrecy in his eyes to make him dangerously appealing to Livvy - and to the readers too, of course. As the story progressed, the walls he'd built around his heart and his inner monsters started to crumble and I realized that I'd been completely mistaken in my first impression of the book and, for that matter, John.

Indeed, this read was anything but nice and easy once John's secrets were revealed. He was definitely a tortured and broken hero, traumatized by his past and imprisoned by guilt. His journey towards recovery wasn't an easy one and Ms. Kelley didn't give him a miraculous "cure" in the end, for which I was very glad. Not that I enjoyed seeing John suffer, but you know what I mean.

Compared to John, Livvy's life was a walk in the park, but she had problems of her own too. Having witnessed her father cheat on her mother for as long as she could remember, Livvy had some trust issues and was rightfully wary of John at first. On the professional front, her business was struggling to overcome the economic crisis: she was still in the black, but she needed to come up with something new to boost her revenue if she wanted to keep it that way. Little did she knew how much those problems would ultimately be used by John to hurt her... Oh boy, how I wanted to hurt him back for that! At the same time, I didn't want to hurt him either because I could see the reason behind his actions. I think Ms. Kelley's writing was great in the way she showcased John's inner turmoil. She made John call Livvy a f*cking b!tch - oh yes, he did! - and while I gasped in shock, I felt he didn't mean to say it. It takes some skills to write that without killing my sympathy/empathy for a hero.

John and Livvy had a sizzling chemistry and their love scenes were steamy hot. Based on their first encounter, I thought John and Livvy would jump into bed at lightning speed. Once again, I was mistaken - and not the least unhappy about it. Livvy's wariness about getting involved with John gave them the time they needed to know each other and made their first time together mean something more than the mere beginning of a summer fling. Not to mention, there's nothing like some sexual tension to keep the heart beating. :)

I found Ms. Kelley's writing very engaging, emotionally speaking, and I really liked the way she's inserted passages of the book John was writing into the story. John's book was as compelling and dramatic as his life. In fact, his book was a reflection of his life and provided an interesting insight into his feelings. Having said that, I must add that the way it was written, the epilogue didn't fully satisfy me. Don't get me wrong, I liked it and it gave closure to the story, but I wanted to see more of John and Livvy.

This was my first read by Ms. Kelley and I don't need to say I was very pleased to "meet" her, do I? :) (Uh-oh, did you hear that? It was the sound of my Wish List groaning in anticipation of the addition of Ms. Kelley's backlist, LOL.)

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

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Review: "No Hope For Gomez!" by Graham Parke

No Hope for Gomez!No Hope for Gomez! by Graham Parke

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hands down, this was the funniest book I read in 2010.

Gomez Porter is an unsuccessful antiques dealer who's decided to earn some extra cash by becoming a test subject in an experimental drug trial. As part of the trial, he was asked to keep a blog reporting his experiences, no matter how mundane or unimportant they may seem. And that's the content of No Hope for Gomez!: Gomez's quirky and hilarious blog entries.

Gomez has no idea what kind of drugs he's on, so he has no way of knowing what kind of "experiences" and side effects the doctors expect him to report. He doesn't care, though. He only cares about Dr. Hargrove, the scientist who's running the drug trial. Unfortunately, none of his feeble and clumsy attempts at charming her seem to work - until a stalker gives him the perfect opportunity to show her how great he is. It looks like Dr. Hargrove is being stalked by someone, so Gomez comes up with the idea of catching her stalker by stalking her himself - I mean, he'll be technically her stalker's stalker, but he can't stalk someone he doesn't know so he'll be in fact stalking Dr. Hargrove in order to identify and catch her primary stalker. :D

At the same time, things become stranger and stranger in Gomez's life. One of the trial participants turns up dead, then the detective investigating the case disappears. Gomez suspects there's something amiss with the experimental drug trial, but Dr. Hargrove assures him that they aren't testing anything dangerous. He loves her, but should he trust her? Would she tell him if his life was in danger? Maybe she doesn't really know what the pills she gives him weekly do. What if he's scheduled to die next? Is there Hope for Gomez???

As this story is told from Gomez's POV and I was aware that he was participating in a drug trial whose side effects were unknown, I was constantly tying to guess which of the experiences he reported on his blog were real and which were drug-induced illusions. Was he really in love with Dr. Hargrove? Was the death of one trial participant that unusual? Did his downstairs neighboor Warren really dance the meringue on an overturned bathtub in stiletto heels and stir-fry hamsters in his balcony? What about the bizarre customers who popped up into Gomez's antiques store? Did he actually meet a man wearing a fake moustache, a three-piece suit, sandals and a sombrero? Was I going crazy because some of that stuff started to make sense to me? LOL!

This book caught me completely by surprise. It was LOL funny, with the kind of humor I like: dry, sarcastic and quirky. I've seen some reviews on this book mentioning Woody Allen and Douglas Adams, and I have to agree: Mr. Parke's writing, full of witty observations about human life and its endless absurdities, reminded me of them. Not a bad thing, as I love their work. :)

No Hope for Gomez! is Mr. Parke's debut book and he couldn't have done better. I'll be definitely on the lookout for his next release.

Disclaimer: I was asked by the author to read and review this book. Once I agreed, he sent me a copy of the book free of charge. Those facts had no influence on my review/rating.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Review: "Unveiled" by Courtney Milan

UnveiledUnveiled by Courtney Milan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FAN-TAS-TIC!!! This was my first read by Ms. Milan and, wow, I was very impressed. I loved her writing, the story, the characters - everything.

Ash Turner, a wealthy man who's built his fortune in trade after enduring years of near poverty as a child, is finally close to avenging his sister's death and his brothers' suffering at the hands of the Dalrymples. After discovering that the head of the Dalrymple family, the Duke of Parford, married his mistress (in haste and in secret) when he was too young to know better and has never had that marriage annulled, Ash takes the case to the ecclesiastical courts, and thus has the duke's second marriage declared void for bigamy and the children resulting from that union declared illegitimate and unable to inherit. That leaves Ash, the duke’s long-hated fifth cousin, twice removed, as the presumptive heir. And with the duke's current medical condition, it's only a matter of time before Ash becomes the new Duke of Parford.

The Dalrymple "children" (Richard, Edmund and Margaret) have lost almost everything - their titles, their honor, their "friends" and their mother - in less than a year, all thanks to Ash's uncovering of their father's bigamy. They haven't accepted defeat, though. So when they learn that Ash is moving to Parford Manor to oversee the estate he's about to inherit, Richard and Edmund move to London in preparation for the upcoming battle that will take place in Parliament when the lords debate the bill granting the Darlrymple family the remedy of legitimacy. Margaret stays with her father at Parford Manor, pretending to be a nurse so she can spy on Ash and document his failings, demonstrating that he's unfit to manage the estate and thus tilting the odds of her brothers' winning the debate in Parliament in their favor.

Margaret is predisposed to hate Ash on sight, but she soon finds out that it's impossible to not like him. There's just something about him. It isn't his looks, his money or, as she calls it, his cheerful ruthlessness. It's the way he makes people feel they matter regardless of who they are. And Ash makes Margaret feel she matters from the start, when he thinks she's a mere servant. As they spend more time together and she learns his secrets, understanding that there's more than simple revenge behind his actions, a bond of trust and intimacy (of souls, not bodies) is formed between them. Torn between that newfound bond and her loyalty to her brothers, Margaret tries to protect both, but she knows she'll have to sacrifice one to save the other in the end. The question is, which one will it be?

This book had me engaged from beginning to end. I loved both Ash and Margaret: I wanted to be her and marry him. The conflict in their relationship came from the situation they found themselves in, not from any dysfunctional trait they might have as characters - like fear of abandonment or commitment, for example. Family, honor, loyalty, betrayal and forgiveness were at the core of this story and Ms. Milan has done an excellent job weaving those elements into Ash and Margaret's relationship. I especially liked the way Ms. Milan hasn't fallen into clichés, avoiding some of the well-travelled paths in Romancelandia. Without giving away any spoilers, there was a much-anticipated scene where Ash's reaction caught me completely by surprise. A very pleasant surprise, I'm happy to say. I've read that scene - or the basics of it - in many books before and I was braced for what I "knew" it would happen. Well, I was kindly reminded that I "know" nothing. :)

I have to finish this review admitting that this book made me cry. I didn't want to, but I couldn't hold back the tears near the end of it. What can I say? That only happens when I'm really invested in a story, and Ms. Milan's beautiful writing had me enthralled from the first chapter to the epilogue.

Final verdict: It's a keeper!

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

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I love books. Period.

I read mostly for fun. I am not a professional reviewer and my ratings/reviews express my overall enjoyment of the book, not its literary value (whatever that means). I am also a moody reader, so I might love a book one day and dislike it on a later reread - or vice versa.

Here's how I rate the books I read:

5 stars - I loved it! Highly recommended read.
4 stars - I really liked it. Recommended read.
3 stars - It was OK. You can take it or leave it.
2 stars - I didn't like it. Do not bother reading it.
1 star - I hated it! Avoid it like the plague.

Having said that, do not take me seriously! I don't. :)