Tag Archives: 2013

TBR Challenge Review: I Married the Duke by Katharine Ashe

I Married the Duke by Katharine Ashe
Historical romance published by Avon Romance on August 27, 2013

Arabella Caulfield, one of three orphaned sisters, has clung to an ancient gypsy prophecy as the only way to save her family from endless heartbreak. Now she has twelve days to reach a remote French castle and fulfill her destiny: to marry a prince.

Along the way, Arabella meets Lucien Westfall, decorated naval captain and the new Duke of Lycombe. She thought he was a pirate. He thought she was a governess. Two wrongs have never made such a scandalously perfect right.

(And because I feel the blurb on Katharine’s page better describes the book…)

She thought he was a pirate. He thought she was a governess. Two wrongs have never made such a scandalously perfect right.

On the way to marry a prince in a castle a lady should never:

Bribe an infuriatingly arrogant and undeniably irresistible ship captain,
Let him kiss her senseless on a beach,
Battle assassins at his side, or
Exchange wedding vows with him, even under the direst circumstances.

But daring, determined Arabella Caulfield isn’t just any lady. And Luc Westfall is no ordinary shipmaster. He’s the new duke of Lycombe, and to defeat a plot that could destroy his family he must have an heir. Now he knows just the woman for the job . . . and he’s not above seduction to turn this would-be princess into a duchess.

Confession – this month I messed up 🙂 I had the prompt in my calendar, and it says “Western: Contemporary or Historical” – but I only hovered over the date and saw “or historical” so … >.> I thought general historicals were on the table. Nevertheless it was a happy mistake, because I “rediscovered” historicals. I’ve been wanting to read a book by Katharine Ashe, and I Married the Duke was one more recently added to my calibre library. Kismet!

Arabella Caulfield is a fantastic heroine. She’s so practical and determined, very rational and realistic … and yet her whole driving force is something a gypsy woman told her when she was a child. It’s a great juxtaposition. Bella is written with such depth and just comes alive from the page. In a way, Bella provides for her family and is the most pragmatic. She knew what she wanted, and went for it, through schooling, her making money to support her family, and becoming a finishing governess. On the other hand, she’s determined to marry a prince. It’s just so out there, that I didn’t (couldn’t?) really think about it. Bella is so friendly I just loved her. The fact that she’s willing to throw Luc’s words back in his face, and take matters into her own hands is also great. It’s hard to explain, but Arabella is how you want every romance heroine to be – unique, her own person, smart, and human.

Lucien Westfall is quite the hero. (I love an understatement, don’t you?) He’s a pirate, a future duke, a former officer in the navy, a rogue, and an all around marshmallow. I loved him. He’s so capable, yet flawed, inept, but amazing. As you can see, Ms. Ashe does a great job developing her characters. Luc has a wicked sense of humor which is compounded by the company he keeps. I liked that Luc isn’t arrogant, despite the fact that everyone expects him to be the duke (and in fact begin addressing him as such). Luc is rather wicked, and actually starts out brusquely with Bella. So much in fact that for a little bit I questioned if he actually was the hero or not. It was a nice take, and really fit with the story. He of course also has a hero-complex, which fit.

There’s just so much about this story that’s woven into the plot I’m having a hard time not talking about it. (My own rules, I know!) I loved the fact that this book stands alone, and has its own “happily ever after.” However, it is clearly part of a series, and the overarching story is not yet finished (and should be at the conclusion of the trilogy, as there are three sisters, and it is driving me crazy.) The prologue is interesting, but I was pretty skeptical about it. It also leads to so many questions. I know Arabella has the goal of marrying a prince, and at the beginning of the book she’s on her way to meet one … but also as a career move – he’s hired her. It’s this mix of prudence and fantasy. Which I suppose any good romance is.

I have to admit, I looked at the cover, and the cover quote is from Lisa Kleypas. She wrote “Katharine Ashe writes with eloquence and power.” The eloquence I could figure, but the “power” really caught my attention. Having read this book, I see it. Ms. Ashe tells a compelling story, with excellent writing. The characters are so dynamic, with a great dialogue and banter. The pacing and flow is perfect. I’m just so annoyed it’s only the first book in the series because I hate waiting. I’m so impatient to see how the story ends, because there are so many questions. The girls’ origin, the ring, what prince, and there are still two books to go! If anyone has read it, I’d love to discuss with you in the comments what pairings you suspect, because I have an idea or two.

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Clearly, I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical romances, and in fact, anyone who enjoys romances in general. I’ve already told a friend to read it. If the gypsy aspect makes you skeptical – go with it. I think you’ll be really happy.

Grade: A-

You can buy a copy here or read an excerpt here.

TBR Challenge Review: Afterburn by Sylvia Day

Afterburn by Sylvia Day
Contemporary erotic romance novella released by Cosmo Red Hot Reads from Harlequin on August 15, 2013

The realization that Jax still affected me so strongly was a jagged pill to swallow. He’d only been part of my life for five short weeks two years ago. But now he was back. Walking into a deal I’d worked hard to close. And God, he was magnificent. His eyes were a brown so dark they were nearly black. Thickly lashed, they were relentless in their intensity. Had I really thought they were soft and warm? There was nothing soft about Jackson Rutledge. He was a hard and jaded man, cut from a ruthless cloth.

In that moment I understood how badly I wanted to unravel the mystery of Jax. Bad enough that I didn’t mind how much it was going to cost me…

I know – we’re all shocked I’m writing a review. If my life stops being a death factory, we can expect more. (And what a contradictory phrase right?) That’s actually kind of how I feel about Afterburn. Meaning, I don’t know what I feel about it precisely. I think I liked it overall, but I can’t say that with confidence, and I’ve been waffling about the grade since I read it.

Gianna Rossi is a kickass heroine. She’s twenty-five, which I appreciate. (I’m so not into NA.) But also, because it makes sense for someone who has been working to put herself through school. Beyond that, she knows what she wants, and goes for it. Even if she isn’t fearless internally, she puts that face forward, which is what I think all of us would like to do. I love that Ms. Day gave her a large, and very supportive family. She’s determined and I really liked her… until midway through then I didn’t really get her. You’ll see why.

Jackson Rutledge is a really interesting hero. In fact, I don’t know (yet) that he really is the hero. By which I mean, I question if he is “heroic” or “proper hero material.” He’s in love with Gia, but he broke up with her by dropping off the face of the earth without a word to her. Also, he’s a self acknowledged asshole. Which, kudos for being self aware. That isn’t something many romance heroes are, but I haven’t seen him as a good guy. He appears to be protecting Gianna by making decisions for her, so in a way he’s an alphahole hero. He’s twenty-nine, and of course in the vein of erotic romances these days, wildly successful. In this case, I find it more believable because it’s family money. And politics. That’s where nepotism breeds.

As you see, I’m conflicted about this book. I like the writing, and I got into it, even though it’s first person. I really think Sylvia Day does a great job with this tense, despite my generally avoiding it. (I really liked her historicals, which is why I read and read her contemporaries.) My issue here is, I had thought this was an awesome story, and basically the Crossfire books made good… but then something changed, and I felt that maybe Gia and Jax were really meant to be apart, despite having loved (or even loving) each other. There’s something not entirely healthy about the relationship that made me uncomfortable.

I think I’m not convinced as to why Gia wants to get back together with Jax. She’s decided he’s bad for her and she’s moving on, and she’ll have some revenge/goodbye sex… but then she decides she wants a relationship. I felt I missed a step there. For Jax, Gia is the one who got away, and his family machinations have put her in his path. I think the fact that both don’t think this relationship can last is what bothers me. I don’t see that as a romance.

I believe Aftershock will conclude this story arc (and I really hope so). I expect I’ll re-read Afterburn at that point. I re-read when Gia and Jax meet again and hook up in Afterburn for this review, but I think that’s enough for me until I know there will be closure.

While those are my issues, and they seem numerous, I will say I really enjoy Sylvia Day’s writing style, and her characters. They’re so dynamic, and the story is so engaging. I wish more authors wrote like this, and wrote characters like this. It’s the story – as in the content that rubs me the wrong way, specifically the romantic relationships. The interpersonal ones between characters is great. I love that the hero and heroine have friends and family. (Although her heroes are generally loners.) It’s the question of whether or not the hero and heroine are good together and should be together that make the questions start swirling in my head.

For this novella, if you like Sylvia Day, I recommend you read it. In fact, I expect many of you already have. However, if you like contemporary erotic romances generally… I’d probably suggest waiting if you can until the second (and final?) part is out. I do look forward to that eagerly.

Grade: C

You can read an excerpt here or buy a copy here.

Review: Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare

Cheryl’s Review:

Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare
Historical Romance released by Avon on May 28, 2013

What’s a duke to do, when the girl who’s perfectly wrong becomes the woman he can’t live without?

Griffin York, the Duke of Halford, has no desire to wed this season–or any season–but his diabolical mother abducts him to “Spinster Cove” and insists he select a bride from the ladies in residence. Griff decides to teach her a lesson that will end the marriage debate forever. He chooses the serving girl.

Overworked and struggling, Pauline Simms doesn’t dream about dukes. All she wants is to hang up her barmaid apron and open a bookshop. That dream becomes a possibility when an arrogant, sinfully attractive duke offers her a small fortune for a week’s employment. Her duties are simple: submit to his mother’s “duchess training”… and fail miserably.

But in London, Pauline isn’t a miserable failure. She’s a brave, quick-witted, beguiling failure–a woman who ignites Griff’s desire and soothes the darkness in his soul. Keeping Pauline by his side won’t be easy. Even if Society could accept a serving girl duchess–can a roguish duke convince a serving girl to trust him with her heart?

Let me preface this review by saying I’m an unabashed Tessa Dare fan. It began with the first Spindle Cove novella, Once Upon a Winter’s Eve, and steamrolled from there. While impatiently waiting for the next book in the Spindle Cove series, I plowed through her entire backlist. And while I loved some books more than others, not once was I disappointed.

Pauline Simms is a barmaid at The Bull and Blossom, Spindle Cove’s unique tea room by day, tavern by night establishment. She’s strong, loyal and cusses like a sailor. What I adored most about Pauline was despite her being a serving girl, she aspires to something greater. A Duchess? Absolutely not. What she wants is to open a recirculating bookstore in Spindle Cove, to fill the shelves with poetry and romance and a little naughtiness as well.

Griffin York first appeared in Colin and Minerva’s story, A Week to be Wicked and he was a bad, bad man. Okay, not really. He was the stereotypical wealthy nobleman of many a historical novel who spent an exorbitant amount of money and time drinking, gambling, and bedding numerous women. He was a bad boy Duke with the reputation to prove it. But it became very clear early on that Griffin had changed. Drastically. Something so traumatic happened that not only made him change his ways, but retreat from society as well.

The progression of their relationship is very organic, both acknowledging this undeniable attraction between them. Also their class difference is a very prominent plot point. While Pauline finds a future with Griffin impossible, he doesn’t. Neither does his mother. It’s not that they are ignoring society’s established rules, but their vast wealth enables them to do what they want. If you are the fourth richest man in all of England, making people like you probably isn’t necessary or a priority. Also, I love that Griffin repeatedly points out his past is far from exemplary.

I would be remiss to not mention Griffin’s mother, the Duchess of Halford, as I regard her as the very best of secondary characters in the Spindle Cove series. First impressions led me to believe she was going to be an overbearing woman, forcing her son to produce an heir for family and country. Happily, I was proven wrong in my assumptions. It was lovely to see a mother with genuine concern for her son’s future happiness, even if she couldn’t bring herself to tell him this directly. And despite being the well-bred English rose, she too has her own quirks and imperfections.

Any Duchess Will Do certainly has a “My Fair Lady” quality, as well as “Pretty Woman.” When Griffin confronts a London bookseller regarding his mistreatment of Pauline days earlier, you know how it is going to end. You know what’s coming and love it despite its predictability. Writing characters that readers come to know and love is Tessa Dare’s specialty. Many of the tropes used have been seen time and time again in historical romance, but it’s the characters, who make us laugh and cry, that make this series truly special.

For those who’ve read the entire Spindle Cove series, the epilogue ties everything in a lovely bow, giving readers’ one last glimpse into the lives of characters we came to know and love. If you haven’t read any of the series, might I suggest you start at the beginning with A Night to Surrender and move on from there? You won’t be disappointed.

Grade: A

You can read an excerpt here, and buy a copy here.

Review: Mark of the Bear by N.J. Walters

Liz’s Review

Mark of the Bear  by N.J. Walters
Paranormal romance released by Samhain Publishing on April 16, 2013

When the devil wants a deal, there’s no bowing out gracefully.

Hades’ Carnival, Book 2

At twenty-nine, Hollywood scream queen Kellsie Morris is acutely aware the clock is ticking on her career. Luckily, the one big role she needs to pad her retirement fund has just come through—the story of an immortal, shape-shifting warrior trapped in a carnival run by the Devil’s minions.

When Kellsie arrives on set, she can’t resist climbing aboard an amazingly realistic carousel bear—and finds herself flung into a world where the horror is real. As real as the heat radiating off the half-naked hunk in her arms.

Marko has waited an eternity for the chance to free his goddess, the Lady of the Beasts, and his fellow warriors from an ancient curse. But once he lays eyes on Kellsie, he knows to the bottom of his soul that his purpose is to protect her life.

But in this hellish game, it’s the Devil’s move. And there’s no predicting when and where the final, brutal stroke will fall—and which lover will pay the ultimate price.

Warning: This book contains a heroine who’s a screamer—in and out of bed—and a warrior who gives a whole new meaning to “method”. After reading, please use caution when standing up. Your knees may be weak.

Since I read the first book in this series, Night of the Tiger, I already knew what to expect as far as general plot. Heroine rescues trapped hero and they have to work together to stay alive for twenty-four hours or Hades gets both of their souls. But because I also am a big fan of N.J. Walters, I know that even when she does a series, each book is unique. There are no cookie-cutter storylines with her. Yes, it’s the same scenario, but the characters, the background, and the details are very different. Not once when I was reading this book did I think, “oh yawn, I’ve read this before”, and that’s the hallmark of a great series for me. If an author can redraw the same scenario in each book so that it feels different, then it’s a winner. Continue reading

TBR Challenge Review: Twice Tempted by Jeaniene Frost

Twice Tempted by Jeaniene Frost
Paranormal romance released by Avon on March 26, 2013

Dating the Prince of Darkness has its challenges…

Leila’s psychic abilities have been failing her, and now she isn’t sure what the future holds. If that weren’t enough, her lover Vlad has been acting distant. Though Leila is a mere mortal, she’s also a modern woman who refuses to accept the cold shoulder treatment forever–especially from the darkly handsome vampire who still won’t admit that he loves her . . .

Like choosing between eternal love and a loveless eternity . . .

Soon circumstances send Leila back to the carnival circuit, where tragedy strikes. And when she finds herself in the crosshairs of a killer who may be closer than she realizes, Leila must decide who to trust– the fiery vampire who arouses her passions like no other or the tortured knight who longs to be more than a friend? With danger stalking her every step of the way, all it takes is one wrong move to damn her for eternity . . .

I really enjoyed Once Burned, and I was really excited when I learned Twice Tempted would be out this year. I liked Vlad when he had cameo appearances in Ms. Frost’s other books. (I actually haven’t read the Cat and Bones books, but liked her spinoffs a lot.) Anyway despite not liking series (especially ones that don’t really stand alone), nor first person point of view, I was into this book. (What faint praise, eh?)

Leila is an incredibly strong heroine. We’d already seen this in Once Burned, but here I liked that Ms. Frost took it to the max. Leila is the heroine everyone wants to read about, and wants to be. She has the strength to make difficult decisions, and not to settle. But, beyond having self worth and a clear idea as to her own importance and identity, she’s considerate. Leila is willing to admit when she’s wrong, and make concessions. Leila isn’t a wilting female, but she isn’t stupid about it either. (She might risk herself, but it isn’t necessarily reckless, or thoughtless.) I say this because her powers take a massive toll on her throughout this book.

Vlad is, well… Dracula – although nobody can call him that – of course. I felt, however, that he wasn’t as developed in this book. So much of what happens between him and Leila is implied, or hidden. While I love heroine centric books, it seems that Vlad almost faded from notice at times. His deeply possessive nature is entertaining, and a bit thrilling, but I just felt I would have liked to see a bit more from and about him. Vlad made huge sweeping romantic gestures, but they simply didn’t have the massive impact or thrill I might have expected.

I don’t know what it is about this book. There were emotional moments. Some when I almost got a bit teary, a few when I chuckled out loud. Leila is so real. And her inner (evil) voice of self doubt is something I think we can all relate to. And yet, something about it just felt… off to me. I know a lot of people loved it – but also that to some people, Vlad’s spinoff has been disappointing.

I’m in the camp that likes it, and will probably re-read it (although I will say I liked Once Burned a lot more…) but I really want this all to be done with by book three. Enough. Even though I really do like Vlad and Leila. So this is me crossing my fingers and hoping. I’d love to see them visit future books, with more than cameos, but these two need resolution. I think also because the “villain” in this case was minor. I know Leila and Vlad’s relationship needed a lot of developing, but it almost seemed secondary.

Twice Tempted is definitely a book I enjoyed reading. It’s a good book, and I happily recommend it to people who like Jeaniene Frosts’ paranormals. Even for people who like paranormal romances in general. (Although in this case I think reading the first book in the series is crucial. Even all the other spinoffs would be helpful, especially Mencheres’s story, Eternal Kiss of Darkness. However, personally, if Vlad and Leila’s doesn’t end with a third book, I might be tapping out. We’ll see. (Or, at the least, I’ll be waiting until the series ends to read all the books at once.)

Grade: C+

You can read an excerpt here or buy a copy here.

Guest Review: Beyond Valor by Lindsay McKenna

James’s Review

Beyond Valor by Lindsay McKenna
Romantic Suspense released by Harlequin on January 22, 2013

Luke Collier knows his duty. A marine corps combat medic, his job is to save lives-not satisfy his own desires. Megan Trayhern is his corpsman, but the beautiful redhead can’t be anything more. Luke has already given his heart once, and he understands the toll the corps can take on a woman, on a romance…on a marriage.

Megan has her own mission. While she doles out medical care in the nearby village, she’s also gathering intel. It’s a dangerous assignment that the onetime military brat undertakes without fear. She needs to focus-and be careful-and the growing passion she feels for Luke can only put them both at risk. Honor binds them both, but the heart gives its own orders….

I was immediately interested in this story, a continuation of the Black Jaguar Squadron storyline. This book takes us to the mountains of Afghanistan, and we meet two Navy Corpsmen assigned to a combat command. They soon discover they are kindred spirits mutually haunting the other’s thoughts. The persistent danger only draws them closer together.

Megan Trayhern is a demure redhead who arrives at a Marine base near a small village. She is trained to speak the local language Pashto and gather information from the local women. A trained medic, she is eager to do her duty. She also has an unwavering desire to help people in need. After college she joined the military to fulfill her families’ tradition of service. Upon arriving at the base she is looked at as a liability by her commanding officer. Soon she changes his opinion by gaining the friendship of the village leaders’ wife, and gaining valuable knowledge of the Taliban fighters.

Luke Collier is a seasoned combat medic. He doesn’t think twice about going out on another patrol, or putting himself between a wounded Marine and enemy fire. He shares the same unwavering desire to help people with Megan. Until she had arrived he was the only medic in the area. He’s well-liked by anyone who meets him. Still he has a slightly heavy heart, since his career in the military destroyed his marriage. He prides himself as a ‘scrounger’, which means he get hard to find items better than anyone.

Lindsay McKenna doesn’t overload the front chapters with backstory. There are Black Jaguar Squadron characters in the periphery of the narrative, but this book easily stands alone. Megan and Luke rarely interact with the Marines at the base. The most significant secondary character is Mina the wife of the village leader. She is almost too courageous to be believed, even considering her rare formal education. She is unexpectedly open to Megan’s progressive suggestions.

Megan doesn’t have much time to get used to her surroundings. During the night the base comes under attack. She has to stand there in terror until Luke comes back to check on her. His calmness is soothing to her and deepens her growing attraction to him. When they aren’t in danger they mostly talk about their common views of duty and war. Their single-mindedness is only thing that takes me out of the story. Navy Corpsmen are the salt of the earth. I know this from my 5 years in the Marines. Many of them were my close friends. One thing they didn’t do was sit around all day lamenting their place in the world.

The action definitely wanes in the middle chapters as their relationship builds. Megan does have to watch as Luke goes out on patrol, but he isn’t gone long. After an attack in the village they travel with wounded children to a large Air Force Base. The carnage makes Megan retch in horror. She’s surprised to learn that Luke has the same problem. He asks her to spend the night off-base, but don’t get the opportunity until the end of the book. There are constantly hindered by the military’s rules against fraternization.

In my opinion this book suffers from the matter-of-fact dialogue from all the characters. I can forgive this of Mina, since English is not her first language. I can’t always forgive it from Megan and Luke. They come off a little wooden. This could’ve been offset by some raucous secondary Marine characters, and made the story more interesting. The lack of contrast is lessened when the action picks up. I don’t want to include spoilers, but I’ll say someone is put in a dangerous situation. The situation is then mitigated in a blazingly fast fashion that makes you forget it soon afterwards.

Our lovers finally find themselves away from prying eyes at an off-base apartment. Exhausted from their trials they put sleep ahead of lovemaking. I know it’s realistic, but it’s boring. They could’ve and should’ve tried harder. They’re romantic tension had been building for months at this point, and the first time they are truly alone they shower and pass out. Finally the next morning they (and the reader) wake up and embrace each other. The story ends with them heading back into the fold together.

Their concern for each other and everyone else does help the narrative along. I would have liked to see more in their hearts than just their aspirations. They look at each other in brief moments without allowing fantasy to enter their thoughts. This might go along with their practical nature, but I don’t think it was intended that way. Without the constant danger and taboo of their relationship, I wonder if they would be interested in each other at all. Megan and Luke could’ve run into each other on Main St. USA, and after looking each other over kept walking by.

Still they are in this situation. They go thru it together courageously devoid of malice. They come out of it with a few scratches and in love. They promise to marry after serving their country. It would be interesting to check in on them a few years down the road. I’d like to see if their love lasts after the bombs stop exploding around them.

Grade: C

You can read an excerpt here, or buy a copy here.

Review: A Bride by Moonlight by Liz Carlyle

Cheryl’s Review

A Bride by Moonlight by Liz Carlyle
Historical Romance released by Avon on February 26, 2013

Royden Napier, Baron Saint-Bryce, is tall, dark, and ruthless—and on the hunt for a dangerous beauty . . .

On the eve of her escape to the Continent, bold, beautiful Lisette Colburne accepts a proposal she dare not refuse: masquerade as the future bride of the steely-eyed Royden Napier and help him solve his most dangerous case. Soon Lisette is in even greater danger—of losing her heart to the one man with the power to destroy her . . .

Estranged from his aristocratic family, the enigmatic Napier has forged a reputation as Scotland Yard’s most relentless police commissioner. He’s vowed to bring Lisette to justice—but with every forbidden kiss and every tantalizing touch, he finds himself becoming less convinced of her guilt . . . and more certain he must have her. But when danger touches Lisette, can he save her?

It isn’t often I come across a romance where the hero is an assistant police commissioner for Scotland Yard, so I was immediately intrigued. What made this book even more tempting was a lawman who blackmails the heroine into posing as his betrothed. I snapped this one up, super excited for the adventure.

Lisette Colburne is my favorite kind of heroine. She’s a feisty redhead who is highly intelligent and extremely cunning when she needs to be. But most of all, she is a survivor. At a young age, she lost everyone dear to her. Shipped off to relatives in Boston, she learned the newspaper business from her uncle. Upon his passing, she returned to her native England, seeking revenge on the one man she held accountable for her great losses. She goes to drastic lengths, posing as a man and working for a London paper, all the while tracking her foe. Sadly, her backstory is far more exciting than her current situation of a 27 year old spinster who volunteers as a teaching assistant.

Royden Napier is the kind of man who sees most everything in black and white. But when he learns his father (the assistant police commissioner before him) may not have been the most honorable of men, his outlook begins to change and Royden is forced to admit he’s had a bit of a blindspot where his father is concerned. As you would expect any detective to be, he is smart, intuitive and has an ability to read others extremely well. A man who was raised to dislike the aristocracy comes to realize they might not be as bad as he one thought.

Admittedly, this is my first Liz Carlyle book, so perhaps if I’d read those that preceded it, I wouldn’t have been as lost in the first several chapters. A large cast of characters along with unexpected point of views created additional confusion. These opening chapters, albeit integral to the story, were work to read. Not until chapter four do Lisette and Royden have their first real interaction without the distraction of other characters. But I was immediately taken with them as I felt chemistry between the two leapt off the page.

However, it wasn’t long for my excitement to wane once again. After Royden and Lisette arrive at his family’s estate, they are soon separated, each focused on the mystery at hand. Again, another large cast of characters are introduced, understandably because the estate houses many of Royden’s relatives. As a result I found myself irritated when Royden would converse with one of his many cousin’s for pages and pages and Lisette would be busy with another relative. In my opinion, there was very little romance between the two. As a matter of fact, they spend a great deal of time purposely avoiding one another.

So somewhere in the middle of this all, I lowered my hopes as the romance became more of a subplot. Also, not having read the previously released title, I felt a certain couple were given far too much attention in the opening and ending of this book. Afterwards I looked up the book released prior to this one and found these people were indeed the hero and heroine of that title. If I’d read their story, perhaps I wouldn’t have minded their appearance as much. But as I haven’t read it, I found them to be a distraction.

In the end, it was a well written story with great cast of characters and a nice little mystery. It simply comes down to not enough romance for me. A real shame since I did so enjoy Lisette and Royden.

Grade: C-

You can read an excerpt here or buy a copy here.

Review: Muscle for Hire by Lexxie Couper

CJ’s Review

Muscle for Hire by Lexxie Couper
Contemporary romance released by Samhain Publishing on January 29, 2013

Protecting her was never going to be easy.

After sixteen years as the personal bodyguard to the world’s biggest rock star, ex-SAS commando Aslin Rhodes excels in the role of intimidating protector, oozing threatening menace. Now that the singer has retired, Aslin takes a new assignment as a military consultant on a blockbuster film. But just as he’s getting comfortable in the world of Hollyweird, he faces an unexpectedly immovable object. An American martial arts expert no taller than his chin, who promptly puts him on his arse.

Rowan Hemsworth’s focus is two-fold—keep her famous brother grounded, and never again be a defenseless victim. She has her hands full as the fun police, keeping her brother’s money-sucking entourage at bay. But nothing prepared her for the British mountain of muscle who makes her knees go uncharacteristically weak.

When a string of accidents on set convinces Aslin that Rowan—not her brother—is the target, things get bloody tricky as he tries to convince the stubborn woman she needs his protection. And accept that she belongs with him. In his arms, in his bed…and in his heart.

Warning: The strong, silent type don’t come much more silent and strong than Aslin Rhodes. But when he does speak his British accent will drive you mad with desire. As will his menacing, dominating power. And what he can do to a woman on the back of a motorcycle.

When I first saw this ARC up for grabs, I leaped on it without hesitation. A strong, loyal heroine? A guy who could effortlessly throw me against the bed? Yes, please!  Oh, and the fact he had a British accent didn’t hurt either. I’d never heard of Ms. Couper or her books before, but after reading the blurb I thought I was getting into a pretty standard romance with some spicy bits. I didn’t realize just how hot it was going to be.

When I first started reading I was a little hesitant. The story seemed scattered, with too many outside influences obscuring what was really going on. All that changed as soon as Rowan puts Aslin on his arse, but not for long.

Ms. Couper seems to have drawn Rowan from some of the most common tropes in fiction, trying to blend them into one character. She’s both the overprotective big sister, who doesn’t know when to let go, and the girl who’s turned badass to hide her vulnerability. Unfortunately she comes off two-dimensional and pasted together. She’s frustratingly stubborn and can’t seem to accept that others might be right. Usually a strong, protective heroine automatically endears herself to me, but Rowan’s irrationality tested my patience on numerous occasions.

Aslin falls into genre stereotypes too, although he didn’t annoy me nearly as much. It probably helped that he ticked off my fantasy boyfriend checklist: tall, strong and British with biceps worth talking about. And let’s not forget the ability to bring a woman to orgasm three times in the space of several paragraphs… and then over and over again all night long.  I’m not the only one who’d need an ice cream break, am I? I was pleasantly surprised by a couple of lovely tender moments later in the book which gave depth to his character in a way I wasn’t expecting.

I really liked the premise of this book, and the mystery element was pretty well done. I managed to guess the culprit in the first chapter or two, but confirming my suspicions was probably the main reason for me sticking with the book until the end. I also enjoyed Ms. Coupers ability to make me giggle with her one-liners. Chris and Rowen were particularly good at it, with such gems as “You insured your face? Oh, Chris, I thought we talked about that kind of pretentious crap?” and “That’s taking my animal magnetism to a whole different level,” when a kangaroo takes particular liking to Chris.

I’ll admit, I’d thought, hoped, the relationship would be explored a little more carefully. The sex seemed to overshadow everything else.  I found the insta-lust, although not unbelievable, rather crude, and the insta-love way over the top. It seemed to be mere days before they’re declaring their love for each other.

I found the action in some sequences to be confusing and difficult to imagine; several times the characters seemed unaware of their particular spatial constraints. The catalyst for Rowen’s desire never to become a victim feels contrived and not very thought out and I struggled to understand how Aslin saw enough of a pattern in two accidents to jump to the conclusion that Rowen was the target, not Chris.

Overall this book didn’t really excite me. I don’t think its potential was fully explored but aspects of the plot pulled me through to the end. I’d say people who like a side of a whodunit with their sex give this book a try.

Grade: D+

You can buy a copy of Muscle for Hire here.

TBR Challenge Review/Thoughts: Rush by Maya Banks

This isn’t so much a review strictly as my thoughts on the book. I couldn’t not add them, and you’ll see why.

Rush by Maya Banks
Erotic romance released by Berkley on February 5, 2013

Gabe, Jace, and Ash: three of the wealthiest, most powerful men in the country. They’re accustomed to getting anything they want. Anything at all. For Gabe, it’s making one particular fantasy come true with a woman who was forbidden fruit. Now she’s ripe for the picking…

When Gabe Hamilton saw Mia Crestwell walk into the ballroom for his hotel’s grand opening, he knew he was going to hell for what he had planned. After all, Mia is his best friend’s little sister. Except she’s not so little anymore. And Gabe has waited a long time to act on his desires.

Gabe has starred in Mia’s fantasies more than once, ever since she was a teenager with a huge crush on her brother’s best friend. So what if Gabe’s fourteen years older? Mia knows he’s way out of her league, but her attraction has only grown stronger with time. She’s an adult now, and there’s no reason not to act on her most secret desires.

As Gabe pulls her into his provocative world, she realizes there’s a lot she doesn’t know about him or how exacting his demands can be. Their relationship is intense and obsessive, but as they cross the line from secret sexual odyssey to something deeper, their affair runs the risk of being exposed—and vulnerable to a betrayal far more intimate than either expected.

I love friends to lovers stories. And who doesn’t enjoy a good erotic romance? I admit I’m behind on Maya Banks’s books, but a few of the newer ones I had read were more miss than hit for me, but I knew I wanted to give this new one a try. I’m glad I did. After all, I’m a huge sucker for best friend’s little sister romances. That whole forbidden thing.

Mia is an excellent character, and I were there were more like her out there in romance-world. She has a strong sense of self, and a great network set up. Beyond the family/parental support from her brother, she has friends who she can count on. Real friends who aren’t afraid to smack some sense into her. I liked that she was willing to take a stand and knew her own worth. For all that she’s young and a bit wishy washy in the “real world” sense, she’s allowed to be. She’s only twenty four, and has the good fortune of not having to worry about finances or security. I think this aspect actually allowed Ms. Banks to focus even more on the relationship.

Gabe is a guy any girl would have a hard time turning down. He’s damaged, but otherwise is unusual as your “bad boy billionaire hero” because he has great friends and family. Sure, not everything is coming up roses, but that’s just reality. He’s almost a regular guy in that in business he knows what he wants and more importantly, he gets it. But with interpersonal relationships, especially with Mia, he has to work for it. I liked the human quality to him. And that he knew when he was wrong and acted to make it right.

I’m not really into BDSM, and beyond that, with the sheer volume of such books, I’m over it. But, I enjoyed it here not on principle, but because it fit. That’s who Gabe and Mia are, and it’s how their relationship works. I think that was the biggest part for me. It wasn’t about how sexy or kinky the story could be, it was exploring their physical relationship.

I have to say, I read this book when it came out, and I’ve thought about it a lot. There were some major parts to it that bothered me, but then I argued with myself as to whether they are major or not. Mia and Gabe’s relationship begins with a contract. For employment, and for Mia to be Gabe’s lover. His actions and thrusting the contract upon her is where the journey begins. In the sense that it’s the start, that’s minor. The fact that it’s the basis of the relationship …

Gabe is supposed to be this major player in the business world. The fact that he uses a sex contract as legally binding makes part of my brain melt. And then his lawyer checks it? (Let’s not even talk about professional responsibility and disciplinary actions…) Hint: I’m not talking about a sex contract being scandalous. I’m talking about such a character assuming it’s legally binding. Or even to have that clause in Mia’s employment contract that she is to be constantly sexually available to him. Employment contract.

So you see, things like that really bothered me. But if I ignored it, the romance, writing, characterizations, were all great. I then thought – should I have to ignore such things to enjoy a romance?

And there you see my dilemma. If I stop getting into “those details” (which really should get hashed out in its own blog post), it’s great. The characters are well developed and genuine. I even liked Mia’s roommate Caroline enough to hope that she gets her own little HEA. (I’m starting to hate series so that’s a major concession from me.)

Of course there are great sex scenes, and what I liked was how realistic the progression of the relationship is depicted. While, of course, almost all the sex was amazing and the best ever, there were some situations that were uncomfortable. There’s a time when Gabe pushes Mia and it doesn’t turn out well. That’s something that is unusual for many erotic romances, and even detours from Ms. Banks’s other works. I believed it, and not having everything be sparkles pollyanna only made the story better.

One last thing – Gabe screws up. Hard. (What romance hero doesn’t?) Before I read this book I saw a lot of clamor about the awesome groveling Gabe does. (I admit, that was a part of why I picked up Rush as well. I adore a good grovel.) Maybe I’m too much of a hardass, but I wasn’t that impressed with it. Alas.

I’ve read the excerpt for the next book, Jace’s, and I’m already anticipating it. A lot. For those of you who like hot reads, I definitely recommend you read Rush. (And then I’d be curious to hear if you even notice those things that bothered me.) Because, as I said, if I take out those issues, I really liked it.

Grade: B

You can read an excerpt here or buy a copy here.

Review: No Longer A Gentleman by Mary Jo Putney

Erin’s Review:

Book CoverNo Longer A Gentleman by Mary Jo Putney
Historical Romance  released by Kensington Publishing on April 24, 2012

Grey Sommers, Lord Wyndham, never met a predicament he couldn’t charm his way out of. Then a tryst with a government official’s wife during a bit of casual espionage in France condemns him a decade in a dungeon, leaving him a shadow of his former self. Yet his greatest challenge may be the enigmatic spy sent to free his body—the only woman who might heal his soul.

Half English and half French, Cassie Fox lost everything in the chaos of revolution, leaving only a determination to help destroy Napoleon’s empire through her perilous calling. Rescuing Grey is merely one more mission. She hadn’t counted on a man with the stark beauty of a ravaged angel, whose desperate courage and vulnerability touch her frozen heart as no one ever has. With Grey, she can become the passionate woman she has long denied. But a spy and a lord are divided by an impassable gulf even if they manage to survive one last, terrifying mission….

I have read the first two novels in this series (but missed the third) and enjoyed the 4th installment in the series.  Unlike man historical romance novels, this book doesn’t have a blushing virgin being introduced into her sensuality or reforming the jaded rake with her innocence.  Instead, we have two very broken individuals with horrors in their past that many would not have survived.

Cassie is a half french half english woman working as an English spy.  Her latest mission is to investigate the rumors that an Englishman is being held in a dungeon of a french government official.  Cassie is resourceful, self-sufficient, intelligent but aloof.  She has plastered up reinforced walls to protect herself with her only goal in life to defeat Napoleon. And Cassie is willing to do anything to reach that goal.  She has no loyalty to the England beyond their shared enemy and she has no need of any sticky or complicated relationships.   She doesn’t need anything or anyone.  Until she pulls Grey Sommers put of a french dungeon.

Having spent the last 10 years in a solitary cell, without even human touch, Grey is a bit wild.  He is desperate to be brought back to civilization while it also makes him weary and apprehensive.  As his fist real connection outside his jail, Grey leans heavily on Cassie, finding her steadiness a comfort in his transition.  Grey could have allowed his 10 year confinement to defeat him, instead he used to mature and came out with a better appreciation for life.  He knows now what is truly important and it isn’t long until that includes Cassie.

The key to this romance is both parties embracing their vulnerabilities instead of trying to hide them.  Cassie and Grey share similar experiences which helps to cement their relationship together.  She understands what he suffered and he understands what she endured.  And the plot comes full circle from being alone without hope, to that sliver of hope starting to blossom until hope and love become the driving force.  Cannot say too much without spoiling the novel, but you will find plenty of twists and turns to keep your attention.

One of the things I enjoyed most about this story was the tale of hope.  Even in the darkest of times and when both Cassie and Grey had turned their back on hope, it was still present, beating them over the head and worming its way in.  The romance between them works because each is able to teach the other to embrace hope and to open their lives up to something more.

If you’ve read this series or this author add this to your to read pile.  Others looking for a less traditional historical hero/heroine or just a break from the traditional historical model will enjoy this book

Grade: B-

You can read an excerpt of the book here, or buy it here.