Tag Archives: Erin’s Review

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.

Review: Rogue of the Highlands by Cynthia Breeding

Erin’s Review:
Rogue of the Highlands by Cynthia Breeding
Historical Romance Samhain Publishing October 16, 2012

She must tame a Highland barbarian…before he steals her heart.

Rogue, Book 1

With the death of her elderly husband, the Marquess Newburn, Jillian Alton is relieved that she will never have to endure another forced marriage. Until his long-lost son reappears to claim his title and holdings.

Left penniless, Jillian reluctantly accepts a tidy sum from the Prince of Wales to “refine” a Scottish Highlander who has inherited an English title—a man who shakes her resolve to never again let a man close enough to snare her in unwanted wedlock.

Ian MacLeod never planned to set foot in England, but the breakup of the clan system has left him in need of claiming the profits of his inherited English lands to support his people. When he meets the very proper Lady Newburn, he is intrigued…and determined to melt her icy heart.

It shouldn’t be much of a challenge. After all, he’s never met a lass who didn’t quite willingly succumb to him. But he quickly learns that the beautiful, auburn-haired Jillian is no mooning maiden.

And there’s something about her stepson that raises the hair on the back of his neck—a clear signal of danger that has never proved him wrong…

Warning: This book contains a sexy Highlander who will make the most proper of ladies have very improper thoughts.

Sexy kind highlander complete with kilt and large sword: check

Upright, proud by scarred widowed noble woman needing someone to sweep her off her feet: check

Moving romance where you can truly hate the villain: check

It is always difficult for an author to start off a new series let alone a new series in a new genre. Rogue of the Highlands is Cynthia Breeding’s first foray into regency romance and she shows up with an emotional churning quick read in with enduring characters you won’t be able to get enough of.

Jullian Alton is the widow of the late Marquess of Newburn. With the heir returning from France, she is desperate for funds to support herself and her sister. Despite being young, Jillian is deeply aware of the depths of depravity men can bend to. Abused and left scarred by her husband, she has sworn to never, ever allow a man to have any control over her. Because of her past, she underestimates her worth, setting up the perfect opportunity for the right man to worm his way into her heart.

And Ian Macleod is the right man. Warm, caring and gentle, Ian is the romance novel’s stereotypical highlander. He has a high respect for those weaker than him, which includes animals and woman, but secure with his own self that he does not need to dominate or degrade. He seeks a partner in life instead of a typical English trophy wife. Upon meeting Jillian, he must convince her that despite all the difficulties, a life with him is possible.

While I enjoyed the gentle romance building between Ian and Jillian, what I truly enjoyed with this book was rooting against the Villain, the Newburn Heir. He is a despicable man, in a number of ways, and I took delight in Ian and Jillian thwarting him at every turn. Newburn is the counterbalance to Ian. Where Ian is honorable and kind, Newburn is an evil two faced liar. Where Ian is gentle and kind, he is abuse and demanding. As the book is written from a Scottish point of view, this parallel continues to mirror the differences between the Scottish and the English.

And like Jillian, how can you not swoon when a man, in that lovely burr that just warms you to your toes, knows exactly what to say to heal your heart. He does not judge her, but instead teaches her to trust and to believe in just a wee bit of highland magic so she can find her happy ending. There is really nothing to dislike in Jillian and Ian. The only thing I could complain about is the very end Jillian forgets some key information that could have changed the course of the book, but given the circumstances she is forgiven.

One final note, Ms. Breeding has a delightful cast of characters in this book and it bodes well for the other books in this series. While I down played the abusive themes in the review, they are fairly prominent in the book and may turn away some readers. There are several episodes of physical and sexual abuse as part of the story, but it is not gratuitous or inappropriate given the story.

A good choice for those liking Scottish heros and for those who may want a darker bit more mature themed romance.

Grade: B

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

Review: The Rogue Countess by Amy Sandas

Erin’s Review:

Book CoverThe Rogue Countess by Amy Sandas
Historial romance released by Samhain Publishing on July 24, 2012

A passion neither of them wanted…and neither can deny.

Anna Locke was once young, naïve and infatuated with the handsome Jude Sinclair. Until the charismatic “gentleman” showed his true colors by abandoning her on their wedding day.

In the years since, she has transformed herself into a confident, successful woman, independent of her errant husband’s aristocratic family in every way but name. When Jude unexpectedly returns demanding a divorce, she quashes the butterflies he still elicits, and resolves to show him she won’t be so easily cast aside.

Jude has come home to assume the responsibilities left to him upon his father’s death, and to finally end the marriage into which he was tricked. To his surprise, Anna is no longer an awkward, skinny girl with a furtive gaze. She has become a lush, enigmatic vixen with dark eyes that shield secrets she seems determined to keep.

In their intimate war of wills, the heat of bold desire flares into passion—and casts light on a shared past tangled in lies and blackmail. But until Jude can win her trust and learn the truth, there will be no destroying the obstacles that loom darkly between them…and the love that should have been theirs.

Warning: This title contains a shockingly revealing sapphire gown, highly improper behavior at a masquerade, a tangled web of deception, and perhaps most scandalous of all, a fiery passion that flares to life between a husband and wife who have been estranged since their wedding day.

What would you do if at 16, the people you were to trust the most betray you for their own gain, which destroys multiple lives and before you could even say a word, the one person you hoped could save you abandons you for the next 8 years and pretends you don’t exist?  You’d plan your revenge too!

Anna, know 26 has lived the last few years of her life they way she wants to.  She calls herself Mrs. Locke And distances herself as far from her husband’s family as possible.  She’s intelligent, resourceful, and much to her mother in law’s dismay in TRADE.  But underneath her harden and worldly exterior is a vulnerable girl who wishes to be wanted, loved and protected.  Something she never felt as a child and had hoped to gain in her marriage.

Jude was an angry boy who grew up into a scorned man.  Leaving his new wife on the house steps immediately after the wedding, he spent the next few years roaming Europe and trying to forget the betrayal of his family and the witch he refuses to call a wife.  He has returned to England after learning of his fathers death more mature and ready to pick up his responsibilities, as soon as he rids himself of the woman he sees as ruining his life.

This is one of the best debut novels I have read and I had to double check that this was a debut novel. The writing and polish is one expected of a much more seasoned writer.  The author tackled this estrangement plot line and difficult characters (especially the sister) with aplomb and grit.  Each character in the novel, even the more minor ones, were complex and  not one dimensional.  Not only could I imagine meeting people like the characters in real life, I have met people like them.  They have their flaws and their walls.  But it is how the author goes about opening up the characters to their own flaws and tunneling under each others walls that makes this story so good.

It was refreshing to come across a story where no one should blame either Anne or Jude for how they feel about their marriage.  Neither party is at fault for anything other than being to immature and to hurt to see the situation from any perspective than their own.  Each has had plenty of time to build up the idea of whom the other is that is shattered to pieces starting with their very first interactions.  The author reaches a fine balance of the couples’ antics between mischievousness, annoying the other, and getting attention, without spite, harm, or  childishness.  You will not forget Anne and her whip.  From there the author manages to create a realistic and creative story that continues to throw these two in each others path allowing the final vestiges of their preconceived notions to disappear but gives them, especially Anne , a chance to believe in love and each other.  For both revenge turns out to be very sweet indeed. Like most romance novels, the characters around the couple see so much more clearly than the hero/heroine do and give them little nudges as needed.

While the author moved the plot line via internal conflict of the main characters and a lack of open discussions between the two.  She did so in a way that actually works and doesn’t make you want to slap someone for stupidity.  It is not even pride that keeps these two apart, but a external threat and in my eyes a very effective plot ploy that works within the psyche and construct of the characters.

An excellent debut romance that should not be missed

Grade: A-

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

Review: Patch of Darkness by Yolanda Sfetsos

Patch of Darkness by Yolanda Sfetsos
Urban Fantasy released by Samhain Publishing on May 15, 2012

All it takes is one weak seam for everything to fall apart.

Sierra Fox, Book 1

In a perfect world, Sierra Fox would have stayed away from the Council she left years ago. But in this world—where spirits have the right to walk among the living—it’s her job to round up troublesome spooks and bring them before that very same Council.

Though her desk is piled high with open cases, she can’t resist an anonymous summons to a mysterious late-night meeting with a bunch of other hunters, each of whom seems to have a unique specialty. The news is dire: something is tearing at the fabric of the universe. If the hunters can’t find who or why in time, something’s going to give in a very messy way.

As current cases, family secrets, new clues and her tangled love life slowly wind themselves into an impossible knot, Sierra finds herself the target of a power-sucking duo intent on stealing her mojo. And realizing she holds the key to the last hope of sealing the widening rift.

Product Warnings
Spook catching: may contain traces of ectoplasm and otherworldly nasties. Not recommended for those with allergies to ghosts, demons, and with boyfriends who think your power is theirs. While reading, avoid dark patches and stay to the light.

The first thing you will notice about this book is that it is not a true romance. Instead it is a paranormal fiction with some romantic elements. Patch of Darkness is the first in a series of books around the main character Sierra Fox. Sierra is a spook catcher. A spook catcher is sort of a mix between detective and bounty hunter. Her job is to go out to haunted places and ensure that ghosts are following the rules set out for them by society and if not to remove them.

Sierra is a rebel who struck out on her own to take on the mega corporation, using girls with her talents, for their own profit. She doesn’t necessarily play by the rules. But she is also vulnerable because of her time with the corporation and the constant abandonment in her life. She has a justified fear of being used, which makes it difficult for her to trust her judgment and intuition.

Which is where the romantic conflict kicks in. Sierra is torn between the guy she thinks she should be with (current boyfriend, Jonathon) and the hunky private investigator (Papan) with the office above her. The conflict is really a small portion of the book, except for underscoring Sierra’s weakness in regards to trusting herself and ignoring important clues due to her denial.

The real plot of the book involves Sierra being invited to join a group which includes a witch hunter, demon hunter, werewolf hunter, and vampire hunter to help protect this word from paranormal rifts (which allow banished paranormal beings back into this world).

The book involves lots of twists and secrets about Sierra and those around her (no spoilers here!). It did start off fairly slow, which made it difficult to connect with the story. Part of this was that many things just didn’t seem to click in my brain. I had too many questions and not enough answers. By halfway through the book, the answers started coming and my interest in the book really started to rise. I thought the author did a good job of dropping clues to the reader while allowing Sierra to miss/ignore them and it not feel contrived.

Overall, I thought this was a decent introduction to the series. It is a short novel and leaves many questions unanswered about Sierra’s life, but does wrap up nicely the immediate problem. It will be an interesting book for those that enjoy paranormal stories, but it is not a book to read for romance. That is not the focus of the book and is almost an afterthought. But that fits in with where Sierra is at this point and works well within the author’s plan.

Grade: C

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

Review: Love and Splendor

Erin’s Review

Love and Splendor by Patricia Hagan
(Retro) Historical romance published by Samhain Publishing on April 17, 2012

This book caught my interest due to the Faberge plot line. There is not much historical romance based in Russia or around the Romanovs, but it is a time period that I really enjoy reading about. I didn’t realize when picking up the book that it is one of a series, but that did become readily apparent upon reading.

Dani Coltrane is a spoiled nineteen year old reconnecting with her father and stepmother after her tumultuous past. She is suspicious of anyone trying to manipulate her and wants to exert total independence. The problem being she does not understand what independence actually means and she is constantly making selfish decisions in the name of independence. In fact she’s not far off what I imagine many 18-22 year old girls today can act like.

Drake is a Russian playboy, for lack of a better description. He has spent the last ten years or so in exile from Mother Russia and searching for the key to restoring his family honor (by finding the Faberge Egg). He is a womanizer and his moral code is pretty loose believing that behavior is justified so long as the intentions are good. He’s a snake that you want to like because you think he can change and grow up, but deep down you know it’s not true.

The best way to describe this book is Dynasty meets Jerry Springer. The author spends inordinate amounts of time describing how elegant, cultured, and sophisticated this family and their associates are only to have them open their mouths and act completely opposite. Dani can be shrew, demanding, and bratty. You expect Drake to be extremely refined, and at times he is. While other times he’s a complete ass. Both of them are oblivious to how their actions are seen or the havoc they cause, or they are just to rich to care. While atypically,you do not meet the hero until about 15-20% through the book, which was okay given how she presented the start of the story. But from there until about 75% through the book was horrible, three ring circus mess that seemed to go on forever.

There was no need for the Coly/Lily subplot line at all. It added nothing to the story except making me hate all the characters. Dani for being so wishy washy and such a teen. Lily was just horrendous and I absolutely expected a hair pulling cat fight between the two at some point. But even worse, the author perpetrated the myth that men just can’t control themselves, sexually, around any slightly attractive and willing woman. The only fairly explicit sex scene in the book is Drake’s running dialogue of how much he can’t stand Lily, how much he dislikes her and doesn’t want to do this, how he thinks Dani may be the one, all while he’s pounding away at Lily. Of course, this was a repeat of Colt’s inability to control himself around Lily either, but at least he thought he liked her. If your going to have the hero of the novel be unfaithful, at least let it be for a better reason then he had some slight desire, she was there, and well I just can’t stop myself.

The author gets around to pushing the actual plot of the story in the last 25% of the novel. This entire plot is extremely rushed and ends up being an afterthought in the novel. Also, Dani and Drake finally coming together is so shallow. He tells her his family story and she forgives his lying cheating ways. She does so, in spite of him currently lying to both her and Colt. All in all, the entire romance lacked maturity. It held the flavor that rich and beautiful (or handsome) was all that was needed to make a couple happy. This couple lack any depth and are barely tolerable let alone sympathetic or romantic.

Several times I almost gave up on this book. I started skimming at about 55-60% through just because I did want to know what happened to the egg. I half expected that plot to roll over to another book when it still had not been barely mentioned three quarters through the book. The resulting ending was unsatisfying and I wish I hadn’t bothered reading on. It would have saved me from being disgusted with both couples.

Grade: F

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

Guest Review: Defiant by Kris Kennedy

Erin’s Review:

Defiant by Kris Kennedy
Medieval romance released by Pocket Books on April 26, 2011

England, 1215, the eve of Magna Carta
Jamie Lost is the king’s most renowned commander, an audacious knight ordered to kidnap an exiled priest before rebel forces close in. The mission is simple–until he comes up against a mysterious woman on a mission, a thief who will first steal his quarry and then his heart.

Eva is also seeking Father Peter, but she intends to protect him from a secret that endangers his life, even if it costs her own.  She is well aware danger lies everywhere, especially in the knight showing too much interest in her activities.  But deep inside, Eva knows the danger lies not in Jamie, but in her, in the desire he awakens in her body and her heart.

When a mysterious band of armed mercenaries upends both their plans and abducts the priest, Jamie and Eva must form an uneasy alliance, and as civil war unfolds around them, they embark on an epic journey that betrays the truth about their identities, their unexpected loyalties, and the dangerous attraction that could seal their fates forever.

Kris Kennedy is not only a new author for me but her book Defiant is set in a historical time frame in which I read very little (early 13th century) as my historical preference is Regency to Victorian. Usually when I read books set further back they are time travel or other type of paranormal romances.

The heroine of the story, Eva is a strong, feisty woman who has spent the last ten years of her life struggling to stay alive and protect her young friend, Roger. Not only is she resourceful, familiar with with a blade, and hiding in plain sight, but also witty, and quick thinking. She understands both her strengths and her weaknesses allowing her to use them to her advantage. She, with 15 year old Roger in tow, attempts to save Father Peter, an old friend, from the King, the Rebels and certain death.

Jamie is a hard, violent man known for his deadly sword and changing loyalties, who instantly sees through Eva’s deceptions and lies. He is cold and willing to do about anything to gain the information he needs to complete his task. Due to his past, Jamie falls to see his own worth. He is cold and calculating and exploits relationships, including the one with Eva, to gain the information he needs.

The book starts off with the detailed observations of Eva and Jamie, which bogs down the pace of the story. The relationship that grows between them is based on their observations of each other with short banter intermingled with their thoughts. Neither trusts the other and frequently remind the reader of their plans to betray. The observations of each are repetitive and droning, which makes it difficult to understand how a romance is developing between the two based on anything other than a mutual physical attraction. I was furthered bother by the repeating of the the same descriptions over and over. While some repetition, when it is spread out through out the story, can be effective, having the same line repeated (like knows like) three times within about thirty pages is ineffective. I was also distracted by Eva suddenly dropping into old English at the start of some conversations. It was inconsistent and instead of adding flavor and realism to the story it broke the flow of reading and seemed out of place.

As the story races to a conclusion, the pace of the book picks up and it is almost as if you’re reading a different story with different characters. The author stressed so much the distrust between Eva and Jamie that it is difficult to see how their relationship evolved, and it seems to be change that is contrived. Because Eva never acknowledges that she is starting to trust Jamie, her actions for the rest of the book are out of character. At times she feels betrayed by Jamie, but simply tosses those feelings aside so unlike the Eva at the beginning of the book. She no longer shows any anger or questions Jamie, just acceptance of whatever he throws at her. Instead it is almost like Stockholm syndrome, especially given the violence (choking her twice, physical intimidation, and tying her up until she agrees to behave) and captivity Eva endures from Jamie in the first half of the book. This Eva is a far cry from the bold as brass woman who, at the beginning of the novel, hoodwinked a ship’s captain, choked a man unconscious, and held a blade to a bishop’s throat.

The book and it’s plot had a lot of potential, but the author did not quite pull it off. The first half of the book would have been better served with less description and more focus in the second half on smoothing out the romance between them. It wouldn’t have taken much, a bit of anger from Eva at Jamie’s disloyalty, a few gentle touches in passing by Jamie, or some show of emotion between them that went beyond physical attraction. Otherwise, it is a decent read for the intrigue, but expect the romance to meander through the story.

Grade: D+

You can read an excerpt here, and buy it here. Ms. Kennedy also participated in a Teaser Tuesday as well, so there’s another exclusive excerpt here!