Tag Archives: 2011

TBR Challenge Review: Unwrapping Her Perfect Match by Kat Latham

Review: Unwrapping Her Perfect Match by Kat Latham
Contemporary romance novella released by Kat Latham on November 11, 2014

Unwrapping Her Perfect Match’Twas a week before Christmas, and at the auction house…

At six foot one, Gwen Chambers has felt like a giant her whole life. She’s a calm, capable nurse saving lives in a busy London hospital, but healthy men give her heart palpitations. When larger-than-life rugby player “Little” John Sheldon convinces her to bid on him in his team’s fundraising auction, she discovers how pleasurable heart palpitations can be.

A rugby player was stirring, with desire no one could douse…

John has wanted Gwen since he first saw her, but when he’s injured in a match just before Christmas he suddenly needs her too. Not only can the sexy nurse help him recover, but she might be able to help him look after his daughter—a shy ten-year-old who speaks only French.

But will it be a Happy Christmas for all, and for all a good night?

From decorating the Christmas tree to ice skating at the Tower of London, Gwen helps father and daughter open up and bond with each other—and she bonds right along with them. But when John’s agent calls with a life-changing offer, Gwen has to decide how far she’s willing to go for her perfect match. Will their first Noël also be their last?

I’ve been meaning to read Kat Latham’s books for a while now, and this was the perfect opportunity to crack one open. I love sports romances, and Unwrapping Her Perfect Match is a really great addition to that subgenre. I do want to note it’s a novella, so there will be a difference, I’m sure, from the novels, but there’s a lot packed in.

Gwen is a really normal person, and I loved that in a heroine. She could be you – or me – and her struggles are so basic, but real. I liked that she was a regular girl. Of course, as a heroine, she’s a lovely person, and does have some quirks. Gwen is tall – 6′ 1″, which I can’t imagine is fun for anyone who isn’t a supermodel. (And even for one such person not until she’s of an age to model…) Gwen also has some hang ups that she’s let shadow her life, just as any one of us might to, despite hers and our best efforts. I liked that Gwen was so relatable, and had a great “safety net.” It’s always nice to see a heroine with a loving and supportive family.

John is such a sweetheart. Any girl would be lucky to have him – but he also knows how lucky he is to have found Gwen. I love that he’s willing to admit his mistakes, see fault with himself, and put himself out there. When John screws up (and he does just as any person would) – not only does he own up to it, he tries to fix it. That is what makes him a great hero to me. The professional athlete aspect is just frosting. (Complete with perfect ginormous body.)

I don’t know much about rugby, but I enjoyed the little peeks into the game/clubs (teams?) we’re given in the story. It’s clear Ms. Latham knows the subject, and something of how the inner workings go. However, it was nice to see a little bit of both character’s careers. John is a professional rugby player, Gwen is an ER nurse, and both are respected. Everyone knows the flash and superstardom of athletes, but I liked that Gwen’s job was given a lot of gravitas, and that Gwen stands up for herself. In fact, in Unwrapping we see more of Gwen at work than John.

Even more, however, is the nice touch of John’s daughter Agnes, who I think is really the “fairy godmother” character of the story. Agnes unknowingly brings John and Gwen together. It was really fun to see so many sweet moments between the three of them, and I especially loved how Gwen connected with Agnes so easily and immediately. My French is about as good as John’s was, but I muddled along and actually liked the untranslated dialogue.

Lest you think this is “just” a sweet romance, there are a lot of sexy scenes with John and Gwen. I don’t want to give spoilers, but I wanted to note I loved how things didn’t always happen perfectly. John  and Gwen have sex, and have fun with it.

I appreciated that Unwrapping Her Perfect Match can be read as a stand alone story. (Which was especially nice since I haven’t read the other London Legends Rugby books yet.) I’ll definitely be reading more of Ms. Latham’s books, and if you’re looking for a nice holiday romance, I suggest you read this one. I read it in one go, and I bet you’ll be going to check the other London Legend’s books upon finishing.

Grade: B-

You can buy a copy here.

Sandi’s Post: Goodbye 2011 Hello 2012

It’s time to bid a fond farewell to 2011 and to look forward into 2012.  However, before I can think about looking forward I want to take a glimpse backward.

I had huge hopes of 2011 finally being my year after having had several that weren’t so hot.  Well, while things weren’t horrendous they weren’t as rosy perfect as I would have hoped, but I still managed to read and listen to about 90 different books.

During 2011 I discovered a couple of writers who while they have been around a year or more I just got to.  I discovered Christy Reece who writes romantic suspense, and who had been lingering in my TBR since Rescue Me was first released.  I’m thrilled to say I totally loved Rescue Me, but as I’m basically a book hoarder, the rest of the series still remains waiting for me!

I discovered Karen White, who again had been just laying in my TBR waiting patiently for her turn!  Karen’s book I did in audio because she was coming to my area to sign, and I wanted to be able to say I had “read” at least one book.  Now I know that when I need my women’s fiction fix I have a great read waiting in the ever present TBR!

The last discovery who comes quickly to mind is Tawny Weber.  Ms. Weber writes for the Blaze line, and while at first I wasn’t quite sure what I thought of her by the time I concluded her Undercover Operatives miniseries I was quite ready to delve into the TBR mountain range and see if she might be hiding there somewhere!

While not new discoveries for me I also enjoyed books by Kristin Hannah, Robyn Carr, Elin Hilderbrand, Beverly Barton, Nancy Thayer, and so many more!

With 2011 behind me I look forward to what 2012 is going to bring.  I know there are some unresolved issues to be dealt with in the new year, and have my fingers crossed for their positive outcome, but I know that regardless of what fate has in store for me, my TBR mountain range contains some great reading by the authors listed above and I’m looking forward to some new discoveries in 2012!

How was your 2011?  Was it all you had hoped for personally and reading wise?  Are you setting any sort of goal for 2012?  Is there an author with an upcoming book you’re excited to get? An author you’re going to try for the first time?  Tell all, as inquiring minds need to know!

Guest ARC Review: Devil’s Kiss by Zoe Archer

Liz’s Review of:
Devil’s Kiss by Zoë Archer
Historical paranormal romance released by Zebra December 6, 2011

A Handsome Devil

1762. James Sherbourne, Earl of Whitney, is a gambling man. Not for the money. But for the thrill, the danger–and the company: Whit has become one of the infamous Hellraisers, losing himself in the chase for adventure and pleasure with his four closest friends.

Which was how Whit found himself in a gypsy encampment, betting against a lovely Romani girl. Zora Grey’s smoky voice and sharp tongue entrance Whit nearly as much as her clever hands–watching them handle cards inspires thoughts of another kind…

Zora can’t explain her attraction to the careless blue-eyed Whit. She also can’t stop him and his Hellraisers from a fiendish curse: the power to grant their own hearts’ desires, to chase their pleasures from the merely debauched to the truly diabolical. And if Zora can’t save Whit, she still has to escape him. . .

The Devil’s Kiss is a book that draws the reader in from the beginning with fine details about the time period, the people, and the supernatural world that the Hellraisers tangle themselves up in.  The characters are well written, from the arrogant and bored Whit to the darkly alluring Zora, and the devil himself and his demons.  Full of supernatural and magical elements, the story weaves between the human world and the place where souls are taken in exchange for promises.

Whit is a typical wealthy elite playboy, but his vice is gambling, not women.  Along with his four friends, the Hellraisers, he sets in motion events to bring about hell on earth and loses his soul in the process.  But there is light in his new darkness, and her name is Zora.  His struggle to rid himself of his demons and to save her, at any cost, is compelling.  There is no quick resolution to Whit’s salvation, and the book keeps you guessing right to the very end.

Zora is independent and feisty.  Her gypsy romani world is turned upside down by Whit’s gilded one, but no matter what evil he brings with him, she is the sort of woman to find that kernel of goodness inside and put all her hopes on it.  Her assurance that he is not completely gone to the darkness is what makes her not only a heroine, but a champion.  Because the book shifts between Whit and Zora’s point of view, the reader is treated to knowing what they both are thinking and feeling, which brings depth to the book.

This is not a classic good vs. evil story about two people trying to save the world and fall into bed in the process.  It’s a romantic suspense-filled book about faith in a person you care for, sacrificing even yourself to see them safe, and galloping head first into danger without thought for your own safety.

Overall, this book about redemption and love was well written, steamy, and full of remarkable characters.

Grade:  C+

You can read an excerpt of the book here.

Me again: One day I’ll get a proper grading scale up. If you’re interested in reviewing, or being reviewed, please feel free to contact me! (No promises on either end, but hey – nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?)

Guest Review: If You Hear Her by Shiloh Walker (+ Giveaway)

Today, Mary G once again visits us to talk about one of her favorite authors – Shiloh Walker. There’s also a review, which I “guess” is the most important part? 😉 Anyway, it’s a great post. I think Mary is fantastic, and I’m grateful she’s still willing to visit lil ‘ol me here, even though she’s a reviewer for USA Today’s Happily Ever After blog/site! So everyone please welcome Mary G!

I don’t know if it’s possible to convey the force that is Shiloh Walker. I don’t remember how I found her books. I think it was at the Chapter’s web-site – if you read this you’ll like…. Well I didn’t just like her books, I loved them. I proceeded to buy up her backlist, all in paperback, which wasn’t easy but so worth it. Shiloh writes deeply emotional, aching chest books. I found her writing so deep, thoughtful and mature that it was a shock to found out how young she is (she put up a birthday post on her blog). She’s young enough to be my umm, younger sister lol.

I have to tell you that the first time I met Shiloh was at the 2010 Lori Foster Reader/Author Event in Cincy, Ohio. It was noisy in the ballroom and this woman walked by & looked at me & asked me if I said something (which I hadn’t). I don’t know why but I asked her if she was Shiloh Walker. When she said yes, I jumped up with an “OMG, I’m Mary G” & I hugged the poor woman. I begged & pleaded & signed my life away and swore to total secrecy, to take a picture with her & my other fave Beth Kery. I stood between Beth & Shiloh and yelled “Somebody pinch me!” Not one of my coolest fan-girl moments. I got to sit at the same table as Beth & Shiloh on the Saturday night. One thing you might not know about Shiloh from her serious writing is how funny Shiloh is. When it was time to say goodbye I stood in the hallway with Shiloh & Lime. I told Shiloh how great her writing is & how it affected me. She just shrugged like she was just “regular”. Shiloh has that in common with my other faves – the best ones just don’t realize how good they are.

Mary G’s review:

If You Hear Her by Shiloh Walker
Romantic Suspense released by Ballantine Books on Oct 25, 2011


The scream Lena Riddle hears in the woods behind her house is enough to curdle her blood—she has no doubt that a woman is in real danger. Unfortunately, with no physical evidence, the local law officers in small-town Ash, Kentucky, dismiss her claim. But Lena knows what she heard—and it leaves her filled with fear and frustration.

Ezra King is on leave from the state police, but he can’t escape the guilty memories that haunt his dreams. When he sees Lena, he is immediately drawn to her. He aches to touch her—to be touched by her—but is he too burdened by his tragic past to get close? When Ezra hears her story of an unknown woman’s screams, his instincts tell him that Lena’s life is also at risk—and his desire to protect her is as fierce as his need to possess her.

If You Hear Her is the first book in Shiloh Walker’s latest romantic suspense trilogy. It starts off in the voice of a kidnap victim. This book literally grabs you from the first page & doesn’t let go until the very end. Lena Riddle is a beautiful, blind chef and Ezra King is a State policeman on injury leave. Their paths collide one night in the B & B where Lena works and where Ezra has gone for some supper. Their chemistry is there from the beginning. It is especially poignant since Lena can only go by her other senses and she feels the chemistry like an entity. They get together once more for dinner. Ezra takes Lena’s number but doesn’t call her because he feels he’s in a bad place right now with his recuperation.

One night Lena hears screams coming from the woods by her house. When she goes to the police, they don’t believe her. Ezra is there to report joyriders wrecking his garden. He believes Lena. Ezra apologizes for not calling & they decide to stay friends. They start to hang out more and more – partly because Ezra wants to keep an eye on Lena & partly because he doesn’t want to stay away. The “friends only” deal doesn’t last thankfully & the sexual tension is built up nicely. Through the twists & turns of the suspense plot and the hot chemistry between Lena & Ezra, you won’t be able to put it down. I’m really impressed that this series is a little different. Instead of different villains for each book, we probably won’t know until the last book, who the villain is. Of course, Shiloh doesn’t need this plot twist to keep me hooked.

I’m looking forward to the next one already.

Heh. I asked Mary G what her grade would be, since this is a review, and she said…

RATING: A for A-mazing

So… I’m going to venture that’s a:

Grade: A+

SHILOH IS GIVING AWAY A $10.00 GIFT CARD TO B & N OR AMAZON (WINNER”S CHOICE). To win let us know – what author, besides Shiloh of course, would you love to meet.

See? Isn’t Mary cute? So go on – tell us! 😀

Review: One Last Night by Melanie Milburne

One Last Night by Melanie Milburne
Contemporary romance released by Harlequin Presents May 24, 2011

When Maya met Giorgio Sabbatini, he married the penniless waif and stray despite her inferior breeding. So her decision to divorce him now is made with a heavy heart. Giorgio belongs to a notorious blue-blooded family, and their duty to maintain its lineage is unquestioning. Unable to give him the heir he craves, Maya knows she has to walk away.

But the ink on their divorce papers isn’t given the chance to dry; after one last reckless night of passion, there’s a very shocking announcement….

So you all know I’ve been reading a positively gluttonous amount of Harlequin Presents lately, and I’m not going to make any apologies for it. There have been some lemons, but some excellent ones as well. Perhaps the most interesting/odd thing about it is that I’m not reviewing a Helen Brooks title, as she’s been about 90% of my recent reading.

However, I enjoyed this book, and it’s the most recent one I finished, so review ahoy!

I want to say Maya is an interesting character, but she’s not, really. She’s rather typical, in fact, of a romance heroine. Nevertheless I liked her. She’s – once the book starts – smart, and has self respect. Her situation is a bit interesting, and difficult – she married Gio because she loved him, and hoped that he’d come to love her. Maya doesn’t believe it’s happened, and after five years and four miscarriages, she’s calling it quits. I thought that was an interesting element that added a lot to Maya and Gio’s strained relationship. Maya is generally sensible, but throughout the book she’s got pregnancy hormones going a bit crazy, but I think any non-pregnant could and would have easily said and felt the things she did. I also can sympathize with her thinking Gio doesn’t love her. Considering how emotionally unavailable he is, and their situation – both in how/why they got married and currently. She’s not a flighty heroine, for sure. I feel like I’m mucking up the explanation, but she’s not annoying, as many authors might have written her or made her out to be.

Giorgio was actually much more of a static character. I did, however, like that he admitted – both to himself and Maya – that he didn’t love her when he married her. He’s incredibly sexy and autocratic and I think we’re supposed to classify him as “alpha” but… I more got that he was cold. Something of an automaton, and almost a jerk. Not that he doesn’t care about other people – he’s fiercely protected and concerned about his family, but he does what he thinks is best without any consultation or explanation. In fact, Gio can come across as selfish, based on his “we’re going to be together – end of divorce proceedings” decision. I did, however, love his honesty. I appreciate that he’s trying and realizes (finally) how things looked from Maya’s point of view.  It shows he’s growing, and changing.

What I’m not quite clear on is why he married her in the first place. Sure, Ms. Milburne emphasizes many times the pressure and important for Giorgia to get married, and quickly. But why Maya? Considering he’s upper class all the way and she’s quite regular. He could have married anyone. I think the idea is we’re supposed to say “oh how sweet, Giorgio chose Maya out of all these women.” But Ms. Milburne never actually comes out and says it, and I’m not quite comfortable assuming that. I also don’t think I should have to. Especially as everyone is quite clear that when Giorgio married Maya, he didn’t love her. That happened later in their marriage – possibly even as late as when Maya left him six months before the book begins.

My other problem was how Giorgio and Maya reconcile. As in, they don’t exactly. They pretend to get back together to comfort Gio’s dying grandfather. Then Gio decides they’re going to stay together and that’s that. He doesn’t say why, or explain it to Maya… and she just goes along with it. Of course at this point, Gio does love Maya, he just never says it. I think that’s supposed to smooth the way for the reader to be happy for them.

The secondary characters were great, but I’m not going to seek out their stories. If I stumble across them, yay. If not, I’ve got other books. I also have this feeling the last Sabbatini brother’s book – Nic – will be him and his grandfather’s “spoilt heiress goddaughter” which is not my cuppa. I could be wrong. But I don’t want to be right.

Nevertheless, the writing and flow was excellent. I enjoyed seeing Maya and Gio work on, and work out their issues. Albeit often not verbally. Giorgio internalizes everything and has a hard time communicating his feelings. I’m okay with that – it’s his personality, and part of Maya’s growth is her understanding and accepting that. It also goes to show that Gio does love Maya – and he does say he loves her. I suppose it’s the realization of the fact and culmination that I don’t quite “follow” as closely.

I did like the book, and even wavered with giving it a B- grade… and it started out as a “C+” review, but as I wrote the review I realized just how much some of the issues bothered me. :X Whoops.

Grade: C-

*ETA: Right! And if you’d like the chance to win and try your choice of any category romance by Olivia Gates… leave me a comment here! (Hint  – you have to click the link.) Yes, that give away is still open! I want thoughtful comments about categories!

*$8,484.50 Is Not The Loneliest Number

I can’t imagine you don’t know what this is about… but that’s the grand total of my Social Media for Social Good 2011 campaign. Remember this post? A Humanitarian Crisis: What We Can Do To Help – that’s our total! In one month, we raised eight thousand, three four hundred eighty-four dollars and fifty cents. Don’t knock the fifty cents – that’s a meal for a child. (And ok, I didn’t figure all the conversion rates exactly because, well, those change daily and would make my head explode.)

We met, and/or exceeded every single challenge. I want to thank each and every single one of you who donated, commented, and shared the links on your blogs, facebook pages, and twitter profiles. I’d also like to extend thank you’s to a few extra special people. First, Ali F, c², Christine Bell, Portia da Costa, Melissa Cutler, Dana/vitch36, Courtney Milan, rissatoo, Shelli Stevens, SonomaLass, and Shiloh Walker for being the first people to make pledges, to kick off the campaign. They jumped in before I even had the post go live, and a number of them participated in my 2010 Social Media for Social Good drive as well. <3 Thank you.

Next, thank yous to the big spenders, Tamara Allen, Maya Banks, and Melissa Schroeder. Each of these authors pledged $500 or more. (This was also one of the challenges. Tamara offered $1 per comment up to 500. Maya threw down $500 and asked if anyone would match. Melissa said she’d donate $600 for 700 comments, as her final donation – went almost dollar for comment and gave $700 – she really helped the comment drive along with different amounts, and seriously pimped out the charity drive when it was straggling at the end.)

I now want to thank Farrah Rochon, who also got not only her mother but her family to donate as well. When Farrah contacted me to tell me her mom was making a pledge, I was floored. Then she told me that her family had decided that instead of presents, they were going to ask their friends and family for donations to charity for her nephew’s birthday party. Color me amazed. Next, a shout out to Dee Tenorio, who helped out the comment drive, and got her husband, sister, and other family members to comment as well.

Then, for spreading the word, I noticed a number of people flooded in after Sarah, of Smart Bitches posted about the drive on her blog (and elsewhere), as well as Larissa Ione. Many people referenced these two as the reason they learned about it, and I also saw a flood of comments after both posted about it. Thank you.

This is obviously not an exhaustive list – I know there are so many of you who did so much, and I cannot thank you enough. A small press author challenge was issued by Avery Flynn – she wanted 50 small press authors to donate – any amount, and she’d double her donation. (Admittedly this one took us a little bit longer, and I pushed it even after the official end of the drive to meet our goal, but you know, the main thing is that we met it!) I was motivated to issue a reader challenge… and since I posted that two days before the charity drive ended, I said I wanted 25 readers to donate. We met it within the two days, and exceeded that amount. How much do readers rock? A helluva lot, let me tell you.

Up until Sunday, amounts were still trickling in, which is why I hadn’t updated sooner. If you did donate and aren’t on the list please please please let me know so that I can add you to it, and update our final amount. And remember the prizes? I’ll draw winners soon. Sorry for the delay – my computer adapter up and died on me, and I think you can all imagine how difficult it is to do anything with a laptop that is dying, and won’t charge. I’m finally feeling like death warmed over, instead of just death, so that’s also great too.

For those of you who donated, I’m going to send out a mass email soon – if you’ve already donated, my apologies – it’s just easier as I’m not sure who has or hasn’t. And for the rest of you – consider putting a few pennies away for next year. Don’t you worry. I plan on doing a Social Media for Social Good drive in 2012 as well. And 2013, 2014, 2015… (assuming the world doesn’t end. ;))

All in all, everything is just great. I’m repeating myself, and sounding inane I’m sure, but thank you. Thank you all so much from the bottom of my heart for your caring, your generosity, support, and efforts to raise money.

I wanted to have some sort of fitting tribute/song but… I’m blanking. Suggestions? Comments? Let me hear them! 😀

[You might notice the number changed. I spoke with Melissa, and she was like “oh yeah, I threw in another $100. Isn’t that incredible?! <3]

OMG! I almost forgot. *shameface* And last but definitely not least, Jess Dee! She was instrumental in getting the small press author challenge met! Thank you Jess!!! <3

Guest Review: Midnight’s Wild Passion by Anna Campbell

Another review from our friend Caffey Cathie!

Midnight’s Wild Passion by Anna Campbell
Historical romance release by Avon, April 26, 2011

London’s most notorious seducer, Nicholas Challoner lives solely for revenge . . .

The dashing, licentious Marquess of Ranelaw can never forgive Godfrey Demarest for ruining his sister—now the time has come to repay the villain in the same coin. But one formidably intriguing impediment stands in the way of Nicholas’s vengeance: Miss Antonia Smith, companion to his foe’s unsuspecting daughter.

Having herself been deceived and disgraced by a rogue—banished by her privileged family as a result and forced to live a lie—Antonia vows to protect her charge from the same cruel fate. She recognizes Ranelaw for the shameless blackguard he is and will devote every ounce of her intelligence and resolve to thwarting him.

Yet Antonia has always had a fatal weakness for rakes . . .

I haven’t read all of Anna Campbell historical romances, but after this read of Midnight’s Wild Passion, I so want to experience this special way she writes again. Ms. Campbell has a way of bringing us back to the heroes of those historical romances from the bodice rippers time without the bodice rippers heroines! You get the feel of that intensity of the hero as a rake but with a strong heroine.

Midnight’s Wild Passion takes place in London 1827. Our hero, Nicholas Challoner, Marquess of Ranelaw is a rake and if his plans go as he predicts he will be one of the worst. As he has set out in revenge for his half sister, Eloise, who was ruined by Godfrey Demarest, one of the richest men in England. Godfrey Demarest, known as Demarest, is a womanizer and gone for most of the book in Paris pursuing women. He was one of his Nicholas’s father’s friends. Ranelaw’s hatred for Demarest is intense and has been stirring on him for years. That hate is what finally has drives Ranelaw to action.

Ranelaw sets out to attend balls and parties as a ruse, pretending to be in need of a wife. He’s not under suspicion because of his age. Ranelaw plans to seduce Demarest’s daughter, Miss Cassandra Demarest. Cass is out for her debut. She’s a mostly smart, sensible young woman. For Ranelaw to get to Cass, he first he has to get by her chaperone, Antonia Hilliard, aka Antonia Smith.

Antonia’s second cousin and employer, Demarest, is Cass’s father. In exchange for a place to stay, Antonia agrees to chaperone Cass’s debut into society while Demarest is in Paris. Antonia knows all about rakes. She was ruined 10 years ago, falling for a rake herself. She hides behind her glasses as a chaperone and no one suspects anything, but Ranelaw. She needs to remain hidden and any misstep in her identity and being discovered will bring scandal to Cass. Ranelaw begins to see the real beauty of Antonia behind her drape-less dark dresses, glasses and her role as a chaperone. Based on how Antonio meets Ranelaw, there’s a challenge immediately between them. The banter with Antonia and Ranelaw is a delight to read! The more she confronts him and attempts to keep him away from Cass, the more he’s up to the challenge to get her both Cass and Antonia. He wanted his pursuit of Antonia to be private but his interest in Cass to be the talk of the ton!

As the story unfolds, more of Ranelaw is revealed about his half-sister’s disgrace, his family, as well as his hatred for his father. There are scenes that bring out the strong emotions that Ranelaw hadn’t shown or revealed. He’s finding and believing he’s not the cruel rake he thought himself. This may sound like a familiar theme, but this author has a special way that is felt so strongly by the reader. The characters come to life as well as the settings and scenery of the book. I fell more in love with Ranelaw after each page. So many of the characters dealing with ruination and how harsh it was during society that they had to hide for the rest of their lives. But even more so, how it affected Ranelaw as a child and into his adulthood. He had set out to get revenge for what Godfrey Demarest did to his sister by planning to ruin Demarest’s daughter Cass. But Antonia gets in the way, in a way that was so unexpected for him that his plans don’t go as he wanted. Love gets in the way. The unique story of the heroine hiding as a chaperone was unique to read. As Antonia feels her past is happening all over again, this time Ranelaw, she feels a love like nothing before but still a future that would be worse if she is found out. Ranelaw is melting for Antonia. His good side is coming out and he feels it too. The intensity between Antonia is a strong sexual tension but so much more, a strong emotional one that they feel for each other.

Grade: A

Review + Giveaway: Unlocked by Courtney Milan

[*NB I wrote this on June 24… but saved it for now. You can see when I finished the novella by my tweet. I was tempted to “!!!!” at Courtney Milan earlier, but couldn’t stop reading until the end.]

Unlocked by Courtney Milan
Historical Romance (Novella) published by Courtney Milan on May 26, 2011

A perpetual wallflower destined for spinsterhood, Lady Elaine Warren is resigned to her position in society. So when Evan Carlton, the powerful, popular Earl of Westfeld, singles her out upon his return to England, she knows what it means. Her former tormenter is up to his old tricks, and she’s his intended victim. This time, though, the earl is going to discover that wallflowers can fight back.

Evan has come to regret his cruel, callow past. At first, he only wants to make up for past wrongs. But when Elaine throws his initial apology in his face, he finds himself wanting more. And this time, what torments him might be love…

I won Unlocked as part of a twitter giveaway Jane L did a while ago. I heard a lot of hype about it, knew it recently number two in kindle sales. (Congratulations, Ms. Milan!) I wanted the story, and knew I’d read it at some point because I like Courtney Milan’s writing. Even so… even despite wanting to read the story… I remained skeptical. For a while, my bio, while tongue in cheek, yes, had some truth in it, as “I’m that bitch who didn’t like your book.” In that… while it’s not that I dislike most books, I’m just not that blown away by them. Especially the ones that are hyped. Perhaps it’s the cynic in me – and we won’t go into reasons why or theories I might have.

With Unlocked? It floored me.

Unlocked is an amazing novella. I’m really at a loss for words as to how to describe it. Courtney Milan is a great writer. I knew this, and expect good things from her. But here, she’s positively genius in conveying human emotion. I felt for the characters, and understood them perfectly. I got their pain and their struggles. I cried. The story had angst, but not for the sake of drama. It was there because it was necessary and real and how the events unfolded.

It’s a story about redemption, learning to let go, to love yourself, and move on. It’s a story about growth, and human nature, and how people can be terrible and wonderful. In fact, the following is a quote that positively slayed me. It’s Elaine speaking to Evan, after they’re “reunited.”

“But none of that matters. What I see you, I remember that you made me want to drown rather than be myself.”

And I know it doesn’t mean as much taken out of context, but another quote I bookmarked.

“When a man was nineteen, he felt invulnerable – as if nothing could touch him. That stupid belief had been the basis of a great many idiotic things that Evan had done in his life. But this notion that all the hurt he’d caused could simply disappear because he wanted it to – that had been the last childish dream he’d held on to. He let go of it now. What you did when you were young could kill you. It just might take years to do it.”

Elaine and Evan are perfectly matched, although it takes them a long time to see it. They’re both honest, but not. Vulnerable, yet determined to protect themselves. Yet they’re brave in revealing themselves. There’s no reason for me to summarize the story – the blurb does that.

I can only tell you that as I read it, I felt. The ending was lovely, of course, and we all know it’s happy. It’s the perfect mix and a blending of everything you want to see in a book. Ms. Milan even includes subtle humor.

I think what resonated with me so strongly is that Ms. Milan shows in her writing that actions have consequences, whether you mean them or intend them to or not. And a relationship isn’t just about how you perceive things, but how you as a couple view them. It’s so realistic, and things take time, yet the pacing is perfect. There’s no lag, but the story isn’t rushed either. (Although, I do have a complaint of sorts with how it ended. I wish it would have focused on Elaine and Evan, instead of Diana. Here’s the cynicism again… to some it might herald a change in someone who had been solely vicious – a high note to end a story, with human growth and a step towards betterment. To me, it was more like a hook for a next book or new series. I could be mistaken… but I think we’ll see Diana again.)

Nevertheless, the epilogue is quite sweet, and I loved how – and this is more of an aesthetic, but it matters – the cover relates so perfectly with the story. Every part of Unlocked fits together. From the characters, to the plot, to how the book starts – literally with the image on the cover.

I know this is a story I will remember for a long time, and the characters will stay with me. I definitely recommend Unlocked to everyone – even if you don’t normally read historical romances.

Courtney Milan, I have to say – tonight, you got me excited about reading again. Thank you.
Grade: A

Giveaway time! As I enjoyed it so much, one lucky commenter will win her – or his- very own kindle copy of Unlocked. Talk to me – what do you like most about romances, or historicals? Do you focus on the emotions? Is realism or pragmatism important to you?

Review: Grace Under Fire by Jackie Barbosa

Grace Under Fire by Jackie Barbosa
Spice Brief published by Harlequin on April 1, 2011

London, 1795

While most of Society views Lady Grace Hannington as a clumsy laughingstock, Atticus Stilwell and Viscount Colin Fitzgerald see their perfect partner—a woman who is more than enough for not just one man, but two. She is well-bred enough to be the wife Colin needs, with a blossoming sensuality both men cannot wait to taste.

But Grace will also need strength to withstand the ton’s scrutiny if she agrees to their scandalous arrangement. Can Atticus and Colin show her enough wicked pleasure to convince her to become theirs forever?

I’ve read this story a few times now, and I liked it, but I didn’t love it. However, I’m having trouble putting into words (or even thoughts), why. I think a lot of it had to do with length, but I’m hesitant to say that because the obvious response would be “well obviously it was too short, it was a Spice Brief!” And… yes. Yes I realize that. Which is why I’m having such difficulty. I did give it some leeway as a super short. And, I did like it, and enjoyed Ms. Barbosa’s writing. The pacing is also nicely done. I think it’s just there was too much going on, in a way. So, perhaps it was despite ignoring the word/page constraints, there were a few things for which I could not suspend belief.

I liked that the relationship and need for Colin and Atticus to share women – and in fact everything – is explained. However, I don’t know how much I believe the explanation. That’s a personal thing, however, and maybe it won’t bother you at all. Otherwise, how the ton treats Grace differently after the opening. Why, as soon as she’s “defended her honor” would the men be clamoring over her? I can see the chaperones and other girls being more accepting, but for men to suddenly want her hand in marriage, after basically treating her like a pariah was too much for me. Some interest, maybe. Such an increase, unlikely. Her looks, and lack of grace haven’t changed.

There isn’t much to say in the way of characterization because the nature of Spice Briefs, but I felt that I had a good sense of who Grace, Atticus, and Colin all are. They’re sensible decent people, who are somewhat set apart from society. They belong in the strictest sense, but not actually. I also liked that Ms. Barbosa had them considering pragmatic issues, such as how society would treat them and their relationship, and worrying about emotions versus image. We all like to say of course happiness and love carry the day, but that’s simply not realistic. That Ms. Barbosa wrote a happy ending – obviously, as it’s a romance – but one that makes practical sense is impressive, and definitely something I appreciated.

The onslaught and seduction of Grace by Atticus and Colin also lends credibility to Grace falling for them so quickly. Physical and emotional intimacy are closely tied, and also Grace is touched by the fact that they both decided she was “the one” before they’d ever even interacted – that they had watched her, studied her, and put so much effort into orchestrating their first meeting. And here… I’ll fall into that trap – I do wish it was longer, and more developed though. It just… needed that indescribable something else to be wonderful.

If you like short reads, and historical romances, especially with a bit of heat, I think you should give Grade Under Fire a try. (And if you like slightly longer books, I can definitely recommend reading Behind the Red Door. It’s an anthology with three novellas all written by Ms. Barbosa.)

Grade: C+

As a special treat- Jackie Barbosa has guested here previously, and this is the blurb that she wrote for Grace Under Fire.

Lady Grace Hannington is the most inaptly named debutante in all of London. Cursed with two left feet, hands that are nothing but thumbs, and a stutter, she’s certain to spend the next five years on the wall and the rest of her life on the shelf. Or so she believes, until her clumsiness pitches her literally into the arms of Lord Colin Fitzgerald and his best friend, Atticus Stilwell.

Colin and Atticus have been inseparable since a shared boyhood tragedy brought them together more than twenty years ago. Though it raises eyebrows, they share everything…including women. This particular quirk has made it all but impossible for Colin, whose title and lands will revert to the crown if he doesn’t have a legitimate heir, to find a respectable lady who’s willing to be his wife.

When a stroke of good fortune—and a little intervention from a well-placed foot—gives the two men a golden opportunity to show the lovely and lonely Lady Grace she’s not quite so gauche as she believes, they play it (and her) for all they’re worth. But once she’s discovered her true talents lie not on the dance floor but in the bedroom, Grace must decide whether a scandalous marriage that’s sure to ruin her reputation is what she really wants.

Review: Rogue for a Night by Jenna Petersen

Rogue for a Night by Jenna Petersen
Historical romance released digitally by Jenna Petersen

Ronan “Rage” Riley first met Lucinda Stoneworth when she was the wife of his best friend’s brother and knew she was out of reach, no matter how bewitching she was. But now she’s been a widow for two years and they find themselves at the same country party. Attraction leads to a wicked affair, but could a proper lady of the ton really find a happily ever after with a former underground boxer? Or will Society end their love forever

Lucinda Stoneworth is an interesting and unique character in that she’s mature, and rather sensible. She’s a widow and a mother of two young daughters. She loved her first husband dearly, which is also something you don’t see very often in romances. I liked that she practical, and that once she made a decision, carried it through. Lucinda is also quite real and personable in her uncertainties and insecurities. Not only is this a story about Lucinda stepping into a new romance, it’s her finally moving out of her mourning period and essentially back into life. She needed time, and it fits that she forms a rapport with someone else who knows what it is to feel separated or disconnected from others.

Ronan “Rage” Riley is an interesting character. For all that his name is “Rage” – or that’s what everyone calls him, I’d almost say it’s not really who he is. It definitely who he was, and yet it’s not a gimmick on Ms. Petersen’s part. Rage had a terrible past, but he’s finally started to move on, and has made something of himself. But he’s stayed true to who he is. For example, there’s a scene where Rage and Nicholas (Rage’s best friend and Lucinda’s former brother-in-law) pound on each other and Jane (Nicholas’s wife) steps in. It’s humorous and touching at the same time.  Ronan is devastated at losing Lucinda (which he does “for her own good”) and declares to Nicholas he wants to fight. It’s fitting, and yet a great depiction of all the characters personalities.

There was humor, warmth, and emotion. I felt that Lucinda and Ronan were generally reasonable – or at least realistic. However, I thought some of the ending was a bit too pat or rushed. Rage, and in fact everyone, made such a fuss about the social ostracism was likely to occur, but in the epilogue it’s all brushed away with a “nothing really happened.” In fact, it seems Lucinda’s friends are rather congratulatory about her new spouse and her ability to “tame the beast.” In my mind it very nearly diminishes the realization Lucinda comes to that she doesn’t care about the mores of society and that love and happiness are more important. Then again, it is a nice reward for following her heart, so while I didn’t love the explanation/outcome, I’m not unhappy about it.

The daughters were sweet but again their insta-relationship with Ronan, or rather, his insta-affection for them was suspect to me as well. However, the girls only make a cameo appearance, and I do think they’re necessary because Lucinda’s role as a mother is also what has kept her from “acting out” earlier. It’s also nice to see how Ronan interacts with the girls, and there’s a very touching epilogue. (Complete with requisite baby, of course ;)). But something else that bothered me was how clueless the secondary characters seemed. Lucinda is caught countless times daydreaming, or tripped up in conversations so much so that it must be obvious what is going on between her and Ronan, but Nicholas and Jane have no idea. In fact, Jane only later says she “suspected something.” It bothered me because Lucinda and Jane are supposedly good friends now, and considering how close they are those strange and awkward occurrences with no follow up just felt a bit off. Still, that’s just a minor complaint.

It was nice that overall, Lucinda and Ronan were level headed and believable. Lucinda’s visit to the countryside was the perfect time to indulge in an affair. The fact that they had noticed each other in the past works for the development and initial physical relationship at least. Then, of course the time they spend together develops the relationship, as well as the fact that Ronan and Lucinda are more alike that first appears on the surface. There definitely were some scenes that made me tear up.

Rogue for a Night was an enjoyable book and I can definitely see myself re-reading it in the future. It’s not too heavy, but still has definite substance. The way Ronan and Lucinda enter their affair is natural and it’s easy to see how and why their emotional development for each other. Lucinda grows very close to Ronan in their time together, and Ronan has essentially been in love with Lucinda since he first saw her. (And I love when it’s the hero who falls in love first.) The over all natural story line and conflict really work as well, and made me like Lucinda even more. I know I listed out all my issues with the book, but really that’s it. Rogue for a Night is a very touching, well written romance. If you’re a fan of the genre I definitely think you should give this book a try.

Grade: B
You can read an excerpt of the book here.