Friday, October 28, 2011

Review of Angela Campbell's Cry Wolf

Title: Cry Wolf
Author: Angela Campbell
Publisher: Carina Press
Format: eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: October 31, 2011
Rating: 4 out 5

I meant to review this book yesterday, but the really long World Series game 6 got in the way. I am now EXHAUSTED after watching the game, so I hope this review is coherent. Cry Wolf is Angela Campbell’s debut novel, and it’s a cute, sweet contemporary romance with a little werewolf tossed in to mix things up. I was hoping that this was the beginning to a series, given the ending (more on that later), but after checking out her webpage, I think it’s a stand-alone novel. Either way, you’ll definitely enjoy this book out just in time for Halloween.
Andrea Lockheart is a reporter for the tabloid The Naked Truth, and her editor has sent her to investigate rumors of werewolf sightings in Woodbine, South Carolina. She certainly isn’t expecting to run into Sean Hunter, former senior editor of her university paper. He’s the Woodbine paper’s editor now, and Andrea isn’t thrilled that she has to work with him, since he said some cruel remarks to her when they parted ways in college. She’d always hoped that their next meeting would involve some sort of acknowledgement of her stellar career, rather than his discovering her hanging upside down from a makeshift “werewolf trap.”
Sean doesn’t immediately recognize Andi Lockheart from college. This new Andi is stunning and clearly not interested in his help, but he owes her an apology after being such a jerk in college. Sean’s move to Woodbine to be with his sister and her kids is a far cry from writing for the New York Times, but he’s definitely enjoying the slower pace of his new life, especially since it allows him to spend time helping Andrea with her investigation. When Andrea experiences her own werewolf sighting, she and Sean begin to take the rumors more seriously and the two find themselves spending more and more time together. Can the two find a future together searching for the truth about the local werewolf?
I really enjoyed the romance in this novel. The majority of the book focuses on the relationship between Sean and Andrea, rather than the werewolf of the title, and that’s part of its appeal.  Andrea is a compelling heroine with a difficult past. She’s a very talented and hardworking writer, despite writing about celebrities for a tabloid, and her shared past with Sean is an awkward one that threatens to undermine her hard won self-confidence when the two meet again. Sean is one sexy editor, and he manages to redeem himself from his being a total jerk in college. His focus on his family and concern for Andrea demonstrate that his changes are sincere.
The werewolf aspect of the novel was interesting as well. I like that Andrea starts out doubting the veracity of the claims and gradually begins to believe in the sightings as her investigation continues. I think making the romance the central focus of the novel was particularly effective, and the werewolf mystery starts to pick up about halfway into the book, which causes the pace to pick up.
Unfortunately, the werewolf mystery wasn’t completely resolved to my satisfaction, leaving us with a bit of a cliffhanger. I liked that the romance between Andrea and Sean was tied up nicely, but I wanted more explanation about the actual werewolf. Initially I assumed that this was the first book in a series, and we would learn more in subsequent books, but as I mentioned earlier, Ms. Campbell’s webpage indicates that this is a stand-alone novel, and her next book will be in a series set in a different world. Cry Wolf is only 87,000 words long, so there’s definitely room for more background about the werewolf, and the open ending definitely detracted from my enjoyment of the book.
Overall, however, this was a really sweet romance, and I very much enjoyed it. I liked Ms. Campbell’s insights into the world of journalism, and her experience writing in that world has translated well into fiction writing. I’ll definitely be looking for more of her work in the future!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Review of Victoria Dahl's Real Men Will

Title: Real Men Will (Donovan Brothers Brewery #3)
Author: Victoria Dahl
Publisher: HQN Books
Format: Mass Market Paperback & eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: October 25, 2011
Rating: 4 out of 5

Real Men Will is the third book in Victoria Dahl’s Donovan Brothers Brewery series, and while you can read it on its own, I highly recommend that you read the first two books in the series before reading this one. After reading all three, I think Bad Boys Do, the second in the series and Jaime’s story, is my favorite, but Real Men Will is by far the sexiest! (fans self) Whoa, mama! You’ll definitely want to have a glass of ice water close by while reading this one.

Eric Donovan is the oldest of the three Donovan siblings, and he’s been managing the family brewery ever since their parents died in a car crash. During a business convention, he decides to shed his staid demeanor and has a one night stand with Beth Cantrell, manager of a high end erotic boutique, The White Orchid. But because of a misunderstanding when they met, she thinks he’s his younger brother Jaime, and since Jaime has a reputation as a womanizer, Eric allows her to believe he’s Jaime.

You can imagine Beth’s shock when she goes online and realizes that Eric is NOT Jaime, and when she confronts Eric, Jaime finds out, to the detriment of the brothers’ improving relationship. But circumstances bring Beth and Eric back together, and they decide to have a no-strings fling. Eric assumes at first that their chemistry is off the charts because of Beth’s job as manager of an erotic boutique, but he soon learns that appearances can be deceiving. Can the two find a way to trust each other when they’re both hiding secrets about their pasts?

I absolutely loved the chemistry between Eric and Beth! When I first picked up the book, I read about a chapter, then put it down, because I wasn’t immediately drawn into the story, but once Beth and Eric get together, everything gets a LOT steamier! You might assume that the book is full-o-the-smexy because of Beth’s job, but the truth is that she’s a lot less experienced than you would assume. I think one of the reasons Beth is such an appealing character is because she’s willing to try new experiences with Eric, recognizing that the reason she hasn’t before is a lack of chemistry with and trust for her partners.

I actually liked Beth’s character more than Eric’s in this book. She’s really engaging and personable, and frankly her scenes at the boutique show her to be a very open and accepting person, even as she acknowledges that a lot of what they sell at her store is not for her. The traumatic event in her past is really upsetting, and it’s easy to see why she has so many trust issues. She’s an intriguing mix of vulnerability and strength, and I really like that she recognizes her weaknesses and takes charge of her sexuality with Eric in a way she hasn’t before.

The continuing family drama at the brewery could be a selling point or a problem, depending on the reader. I find it extremely believable that the three siblings would fall into patterns of behavior that prevent them from improving their communication. There’s never any doubt that they love each other, but clearly the deaths of their parents established roles for each sibling that have continued into adulthood. Jaime and Eric in particular seem to punch each other’s buttons, and while I found this believable, it also really frustrated me. I’m not sure that a reader who hadn’t read the other books in the series would have this reaction, but I thought that after Jaime’s book, his relationship with Eric would improve, which was not the case. The constant tension between the siblings, while realistic, grew distracting, and I think detracted from my enjoyment of the book overall. Seriously, at times I just wanted to scream at them, “Haven’t you people ever heard of therapy?!!?!”

In spite of a few throw-my-book-at-the-wall moments thanks to all the family drama, I really enjoyed this book. In fact, I love Ms. Dahl’s voice in this trilogy, and I can’t wait to read more of her work. Definitely a keeper!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Review of Coleen Kwan's When Harriet Came Home

Title: When Harriet Came Home
Author: Coleen Kwan
Publisher: Carina Press
Format: eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: October 24, 2011
Rating: 3 out of 5

One of the reasons I’m enjoying the eBooks published by Carina Press these days is that I get to read authors from other English-speaking countries. When Harriet Came Home author Coleen Kwan is from Australia, and every now and then a lovely phrase or reference will draw your attention to her small-town setting of Wilmot, Australia. It’s not that different than most small town contemporary romances I’ve read, but I like the variety. This book is short at only 50,000 words, but it’s a quick and engaging read.
Harriet Brown finds herself returning to her small town of Wilmot after a decade of self-exile when her father is injured in a car accident. Ten years ago she unwittingly caught the town’s mayor on film taking a bribe and meeting women for sordid affairs. He’s killed in a car accident shortly thereafter, and the town turns on the overweight, shy teen they consider responsible. The situation was all the more upsetting for Harriet because the teenager had a crush on the mayor’s son, Adam Blackstone. When years later she’s forced to return to Wilmot after her father’s accident, the first person she sees at the hospital is hunky carpenter Adam, and he is not pleased that she’s back in town.
But Harriet’s father wants the two to reconcile, and his accident provides the perfect excuse for his matchmaking. He was supposed to cater the town’s charity Harvest Ball that Adam’s organizing, but his injury has made that impossible, so he volunteers Harriet’s catering services. Harriet reluctantly agrees, because it’s obviously important to her father, but she’s not thrilled that she’ll have to spend more time with Adam. He’s not happy about it either, because the shy teen he remembers is now a beautiful, curvaceous woman who’s proving irresistible to the handyman. Sparks fly between the two, but will Adam’s love be enough to keep Harriet in Wilmot?
This is a cute small town romance with one sexy carpenter hero, complete with “mean girls” who never grew up after high school and a lot of nasty gossip. Ms. Kwan’s writing flows smoothly and the premise of the heroine returning home after making good in the big city is an appealing one. Plus, Adam is a really great hero material. He confesses to Harriet that he was really self-absorbed in his teens and that he enjoys working with his hands (nice!!). He’s clearly turned his life around, despite the painful events of ten years ago. And let’s face it, sexy carpenters who are good with their hands and have sexy Aussie accents are a win-win in the hero category!
So why didn’t I like it more? I actually remembered most of the details of the plot from when I read the novel well over a month ago, but I couldn’t put my finger on why I felt indifferent about it, so I re-read the book. As I said, the writing is good, and the pacing of the romance and the nature of the conflict were all good. And truthfully, there’s nothing wrong with the story; it just didn’t capture my interest.
I think part of why I feel “meh” towards this book is that Harriet is not as enjoyable a character as Adam. She begins strongly, since she’s lost weight, had eye surgery, and founded a successful catering company in Sydney in the last ten years, setting her up for a triumphant return to the town that cruelly rejected her in her teens. When Adam meets up with her again he’s surprised by how sassy she is compared to the awkward teenager he knew. But she’s not actually all that sassy. In fact, she’s a bit of a wimp and really insecure. She constantly questions herself and Adam’s motives towards her, allows her sister to use her for free babysitting services, and nearly has a breakdown during the Harvest Ball. That struck me as odd, given that she’s been catering for years and owned her own company for three. Harriet is a likeable character, but her insecurities left me wondering what Adam saw in her.
Despite the flaws, I liked Ms. Kwan’s writing, and on her website it mentions that she just sold her second novel, a steampunk romance, to Carina Press. Given the sexy hero and solid writing in When Harriet Came Home, I’m looking forward to seeing what she does with in the steampunk genre.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Early Review of Kristan Higgins' Until There Was You

Title: Until There Was You
Author: Kristan Higgins
Publisher: HQN Books
Format: Mass Market Paperback & eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: October 25, 2011
Rating: 4 out of 5

This contemporary romance made me laugh and cry, and I absolutely loved it! I highlighted so many different sections of the book and have re-read them so often that if I were reading a physical book instead of my Kindle the pages would be falling out. Scrawny 5’2” Posey is charmer, and you’ll fall for hottie bad boy Liam. Who wouldn’t? He rides a motorcycle, wears black leather, and only shaves every few days. Reformed bad boys make for great romance heroes, and you’ll definitely swoon for this one!
Until There Was You is a reunion romance of sorts – Posey Osterhagen was madly in love with bad boy Liam Murphy when she was sixteen, but he barely noticed her. In fact, he was indirectly responsible for her disastrous prom experience, so when he moves back to Bellsford, New Hampshire, with his 15 year old daughter, Posey tries to play it cool around her former crush. Posey runs a successful architectural salvage company in town, and she tries to keep busy to avoid him, but her adopted parents’ attempts to play matchmaker with the good-looking widower and their niece Gretchen ensure that Liam and Posey are thrown together. But Liam’s not looking for romance, and some well-meaning family members seem determined to keep the two apart. Can the bad boy and the quirky runt from high school find a way to be together?
Kristan Higgins always manages to crack me up with her humor, and despite several teary moments, this book was no exception. The secondary characters will keep you rolling in the aisles, especially Posey’s adopted parents, who are large, boisterous owners of a German restaurant in town. Posey herself has a dry wit that provides some great one-liners, and Liam’s protective instincts towards his daughter Nicole make for some hilarious moments as well. When her prom date shows up and Liam threatens him, I was crying with laughter. And Ms. Higgins clearly has teenagers of her own, as Posey uses “Oh, Bieber” as an interjection, and Liam tells his daughter, “Whatevs.” Of course, in my experience, if your Mom’s using slang in a book, it’s probably not cool anymore, but it makes for a fun read.
There’s also plenty of angst to go around, as we witness several flashbacks to Posey’s disastrous prom experience and Liam reflects on his marriage with the town’s golden girl. The relationships between parents and children are a constant theme in the book, whether those children are adults or teens, and you’ll definitely find yourself tearing up at times.
The biggest problem with the book and the reason I only gave it a four when I clearly love it is the lackluster romance between Liam and Posey. It’s clear from the beginning that Posey has feelings for Liam, but Liam’s feelings for Posey are never quite as obvious. In fact, at times I felt that he spent more time thinking about his dead wife and their marriage than he did thinking about Posey. He clearly cares for her and the ending feels like a scene from a John Hughes movie (set at prom, no less!), but afterwards when I was thinking about the book, I had the distinct impression that his wife had been the love of his life and Posey was merely second best. This is a pretty serious failing in a romance novel, so I think it speaks volumes about the book that I loved it in spite of this.
If you’re looking for a fun contemporary romance with a little angst and lots of humor, I highly recommend this one. It’s definitely going on my keeper shelf, and I suspect I’ll be re-reading it for years to come.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Early Review of Sandy Williams' The Shadow Reader

Title: The Shadow Reader
Author: Sandy Williams
Publisher: Ace
Format: Mass Market Paperback & eBook
Source: Won through Goodreads FirstReads Program
Publication Date: October 25, 2011
Rating: 4 out of 5

This week I’ve read some really excellent books, and this debut Urban Fantasy by Sandy Williams drew me in from the beginning. The heroine is an appealing mix of strength and vulnerability, and according to Ms. Williams’ webpage there is a sequel in the works, so I’m really looking forward to reading more of this world. If you’re a fan of UF, I think you’ll really enjoy The Shadow Reader.

McKenzie Lewis is in her early twenties, but since her teens she’s been working for the king of the fae as a shadow reader. When the fae travel, or fissure, between realms, she can look into the shadows left behind and pinpoint their locations. This has been a handy trick, since fae King Atroth is currently fighting a rebellion among the fae, and McKenzie has helped him hunt down rebels. She’s also in love with Atroth’s Swordmaster, Kyol, who protects her when she’s reading the shadows. Unfortunately, the rebels have caught up with her, and she’s kidnapped by Aren, one of the rebel leaders. Instead of having her killed, he teaches her the fae language and tries to convince her that Atroth and Kyol have been lying to her for years. When the fighting ventures into the human realm, McKenzie has to make difficult decisions about which of the fae to trust.

There’s a lot to like about this book. McKenzie is an appealing heroine who has found herself cut off from human relationships because of her abilities to read the shadows. The fae don’t concern themselves with her life in the human realm, and they simply pop in and out of her life, expecting her to drop whatever she’s doing to serve the fae king. This naturally makes her seem crazy to everyone else, because they can’t see who she’s speaking to or understand why she can’t keep a steady job. But after years of believing that the fae king is protecting her, McKenzie doesn’t know what to believe when the rebels kidnap her and begin telling her their version of what’s happening. She’s also confused by her attraction to the rebel leader, Aren, because she’s very much in love with Kyol. Watching her develop into a woman who finally acts on her own behalf instead of merely following the orders of others is really rewarding. It would have been easy to portray McKenzie as a victim, but Ms. Williams makes her a complex woman who learns to trust herself after years of disappointment at the hands of others.

While the characters are appealing, the world-building is stellar, and it will completely draw you in. The conflict between the fae factions is much more than nuanced than it would initially appear. It is clear fairly early on that McKenzie’s perceptions of who is good versus who is evil have been heavily influenced in the King’s favor, but I like that we can see how he came to make certain decisions. His swordmaster Kyol is portrayed as an honorable man faced with difficult choices, and while he has served the King faithfully for years, he, too, experiences doubt about the King’s current path. But the rebels aren’t necessarily sympathetic characters either, since some want to kill McKenzie immediately, only holding off because Aren convinces them to wait and try to bring her over to their side. This complexity makes the outcome uncertain and will keep you turning the pages to see how it all works out.

I do have two criticisms of the novel, one more serious than the other. The first is that I wasn’t completely sold on the Aren-McKenzie part of the love triangle. I was never in doubt that they were attracted to one another, but I was uncertain about his feelings for her. Does he truly love her or are his actions motivated by jealousy of her relationship with Kyol? He accuses Kyol of using McKenzie, but he also needs her help as a shadow reader. I’m still not completely convinced of the depth of his feelings, and while McKenzie does decide between Aren and Kyol in the end, the resolution leaves room for the love triangle to continue in future books.

My other criticism is stylistic. Ms. Williams writes the book in the first person present tense, and frankly that is my least favorite form of narration. It's not that I prefer third person narration over the first, because a lot of Urban Fantasy novels are written in the first person, and UF is one of my favorite genres. But when everything is narrated in the present tense, it strikes me as unsophisticated. It makes it feel as though McKenzie describes everything in real time, a la Jack Bauer in 24. It’s to Ms. Williams’ credit that the world-building, plot, and characters are so engrossing that for the most part the writing takes a backseat to the action, but at times the constant use of the present tense was jarring and drew me out of the book. I really don’t want to notice the writing over the story while I’m reading the book, and this is a serious flaw. I’m hoping that this will improve in subsequent books, as The Shadow Reader was easily one of my favorite Urban Fantasy reads in a while.

Despite its flaws, The Shadow Reader is an exciting debut and an engrossing read. I’m really looking forward to reading more about these characters and this world in the future, and Ms. Williams can’t write that sequel fast enough for me. Definitely check this one out!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Review of Lia Habel's Dearly, Departed

Title: Dearly, Departed
Author: Lia Habel
Publisher: Del Rey
Format: Hardcover & eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: October 18, 2011
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Lia Habel’s Dearly, Departed is the first Young Adult novel I’ve reviewed for the blog, and it is OUTSTANDING. I’m so glad I requested this book for review, because it is extremely well-written and will appeal to readers of all ages. I have to warn you that at times the zombies in this novel totally squicked me out, but HELLO, they’re ZOMBIES, so consider yourself warned. But even with the zombie gross out factor, this hardcover YA release is well worth the price, and I’m eagerly awaiting more from this author.

Set in 2195 after a new ice age has forced humans to migrate to Central and South America, the novel takes place in New Victoria. The survivors of the numerous wars and plagues decided that the Victorian Age was the golden period of humanity and have recreated that period’s class structure, dress and mores, while using technology more familiar to readers in the 21st century, such as digital cameras, an “aethernet,” cell phones, and flat screen televisions.  

As the novel begins, 16 year old Nora Dearly and her best friend Pamela Roe are preparing to leave boarding school for the Christmas holidays. As Nora faces a dreary holiday placing insipid calls with her social-climbing aunt, she’s unable to shake off the sadness she feels after her father’s death a year earlier. Little does Nora realize that she’ll soon be facing down horrifying creatures intent on taking her captive.

Fortunately for Nora, 18 year old Captain Bram Griswold rescues her from the zombies, only to reveal to her that he himself is the walking undead. Bram and his company form part of a special army unit created to fight vicious zombies and prevent the spread of the Lazarus virus. Their existence depends upon her not-so-dead father’s creating a vaccine for the virus, but Dr. Dearly is missing. Bram does not plan on falling for a snooty New Victorian Neoaristocrat, but they must work together to find the missing doctor and prevent the spread of the Lazarus virus. But can there be a future for the two of them when Bram is already dead?

Dearly, Departed is narrated in the first person by several characters, although the principal narrators are Nora, Pamela, and Bram. The strength of these voices is only one of the many reasons I enjoyed this novel. First and foremost, the female characters are outstanding. Nora and Pam are constrained by society to seek husbands and thus support their families’ social ambitions, yet they prove their strength of character under extremely adverse conditions, and that strength of character is clearly evident in the narration. Each chapter clearly identifies who is speaking, but I’m not sure that’s necessary, as the characters have strong individual voices.

The zombies themselves make for charming and irrepressible secondary characters you won’t be able to forget. While their bodies won’t recover from injury and will eventually decay, they clearly retain their humanity and deserve to be treated as more than expendable weapons. Bram in particular is charming in his attempts to maintain his humanity, and you’ll easily see why Nora falls for him.

One of the reasons I find this book so refreshing is that it avoids many of the tropes we see repeatedly in Young Adult fiction. There isn’t a love triangle per se, although one of human teenage aristocrats acts as though there were. Also, the parents are not missing in action in this book. Pamela’s parents are very active in her life, even if we don’t approve of how they treat her. They attempt to constrain her actions, but when the family is threatened, they show themselves willing to listen to her. I also like how Nora’s reunion with her father is explored, since he discusses his decisions with her and is capable of admitting when he’s wrong.

I do have a few criticisms of the novel, however. My first is that I’m not really certain why Nora’s aunt appears in the book. At first she acts as Nora’s guardian, but she quickly disappears once Nora is kidnapped, and she’s only mentioned in passing once more. While her actions and relationship to Nora demonstrate what Nora can expect as a woman of her social class, it seems odd that she would play so prominent a role in the beginning, only to disappear so quickly.

My second concern is also minor. We learn through Nora that the survivors of the ice age and numerous civil wars considered the Victorian Age to be man’s Golden Age, but I had a hard time understanding why the original female survivors would allow themselves to return to a period that severely restricts their movement and limits their worth.

Despite my misgivings about the New Victorians, the world building is compelling and the writing exceptional, making this a delightful read for both the young and the not-so-young.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Early Review of Karen Hawkins' A Most Dangerous Profession

Title: A Most Dangerous Profession (Hurst Amulet #3)
Author: Karen Hawkins
Publisher: Pocket Books
Format: Mass Market Paperback & eBook
Source: Purchased
Publication Date: October 18, 2011
Rating: 4 out of 5

Karen Hawkins is one of my favorite historical romance authors, and I love to recommend her books, because they’re always funny and appealing. You can imagine my excitement, then, when I discovered an early copy of A Most Dangerous Profession at the Barnes & Noble this weekend. This is the third book in the Hurst Amulet series if you don’t count the prequel, Much Ado About Marriage, and even if you haven’t read any of the other novels in the series, you’ll be able to enjoy this lighthearted romance without difficulty.
Moira MacAllister has a long-standing history with Robert Hurst: she tricked him into marriage more than five years ago when he was investigating her at the behest of the Home Office. She’s joined the search for the three onyx boxes that will lead Robert’s family to the Hurst Amulet, but her interest in the boxes is fueled by desperation rather than avarice. Blackmailer George Aniston is forcing her to recover the boxes by holding captive her five year old daughter, Rowena. What Robert doesn’t realize is that Rowena is his daughter and the reason Moira tricked him into marriage all those years ago. Since Robert’s brother Michael’s safety depends on his recovering the onyx box, Robert can’t allow Moira to abscond with the relic, but he also finds it harder and harder to resist her charms. When the two decide to work together, sparks fly, giving Moira hope that the two can reunite, but as time progresses she begins to wonder if Robert will ever be able to forgive her original deception.
One of the reasons I enjoy Ms. Hawkins’ books so much is that she writes characters who aren’t aristocrats, and A Most Dangerous Profession is no exception. Her female characters are interesting and complex rather than insipid debutantes sipping tea and making social calls. Moira was born into the working class, but was raised by a gypsy, which makes it easy to understand Robert’s fascination with her. He, too, is not from the aristocracy, since he’s a son of a vicar, but he makes a living selling the artifacts that his explorer brother Michael unearths during his travels. Robert’s work as a spy also gives his character a dangerous edge, an aspect that appeals to Moira’s sense of adventure. The sexual tension between them smolders and adds some sizzle to the already fraught situation with their daughter.
While the first half of the book seemed to drag a little, the action and chemistry definitely picked up in the second half. Once they arrive at Balnagown castle to retrieve the third onyx box, Moira and Robert work together, and the book is irresistible from that point. The two work together effortlessly, and you’ll enjoy watching Robert learn to appreciate Moira’s abilities as a spy, while they grow closer together as a couple emotionally and physically.
I do have a few criticisms of the book. My first is that initially the book shares a few similarities with the second book in the series, Scandal in Scotland. Both Moira and Marcail betrayed the Hurst brothers, were quite improper, and are reunited with the brothers because of secrets in their pasts. Once I read farther into the third novel, however, the books differed enough that it didn’t bother me as much as it had at first. Another minor complaint has to do with Rowena, Moira and Robert's daughter. She barely appears in the book, which is fine, but in the epilogue she addresses her mother in a manner that seemed completely unlike a five year old, which had me checking back to see if she was actually older than I originally thought.
My most serious complaint, however, is that I want MORE!!! And I don’t mean more novels (although I definitely want more of those as well); I mean the font is so large that the book seems really, really short. I think Ms. Hawkins could have easily extended the book by including flashbacks to Moira and Robert’s time together, plus the final confrontation with George Aniston went by far too quickly, ending the book abruptly.  I don’t want to mislead you into thinking that A Most Dangerous Profession is not a complete book, because it is (and it’s completely enchanting), but I’m bothered that publishers seem to be making historical romances shorter by enlarging the font while keeping the page count the same.
That said, Ms. Hawkins is always an auto-buy for me, and this is another keeper. I really enjoy the excerpts from letters and diaries at the beginning of each chapter, since they advance the overarching story of the series. If you enjoy engaging historical romances that focus on characters not from the aristocracy, I definitely recommend A Most Dangerous Profession.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Review of Revenge of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz

Title: Revenge of the Spellmans (Spellmans #3)
Author: Lisa Lutz
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Formats: Hardcover, Trade Paperback & Ebook
Source: Won from Goodreads’ First Reads
Publication Date: 2009
Rating: 4 out of 5
One of the reasons I enjoy Goodreads’ First Reads program is that I can enter contests to win books I normally wouldn’t pick up, thus discovering new authors in different genres. Sometimes this backfires (see my review of The Medusa Amulet), but since I spent last night laughing like a hyena and scaring the dog, I think we can safely say my plan worked out great with Lisa Lutz’s Revenge of the Spellmans. This book was so funny in places that I had to stop reading because I was tearing up from laughing so hard.
Revenge of the Spellmans is billed as a mystery, but to me the biggest mystery is how Isabel “Izzy” Spellman has managed to live 31 years without strangling someone in her family. Izzy’s family owns a PI firm in San Francisco, but as the book begins Izzy is taking a break by working as a bartender and attending court-ordered therapy sessions. When her boss at the bar asks her to look into a friend’s case as a favor, Izzy reluctantly agrees, but what at first seems to be a simple case of a husband suspecting a wife of cheating soon becomes far more elaborate.
What makes this book so unusual is that most of the book is focused on small mysteries within the family. Izzy wants to know why her perfect lawyer brother David is acting so unusual, her younger sister Rae keeps relocating Izzy’s car without permission, and her father keeps insisting on having lunch with her. This family is probably certifiably insane, and in the real world these people would drive you NUTS, but within the pages of this book the Spellmans are hilarious.
My absolute favorite scene has to be when Izzy recounts the first job interview she ever had. Even though she’d been working off the books for her parents since she was 12, her father insisted on having a job interview when Izzy turned 15. Honestly, I think I found this scene so funny, because I can TOTALLY see my Dad doing this. Unfortunately, I resemble uptight lawyer brother David more than Izzy, so I would have played along. Izzy doesn’t, and just thinking about the scene makes me snicker. She’s quite the smartass, and while at times that definitely gets in the way of her developing relationships with other people, it creates some hysterical moments within the family. When her Dad (Albert) calls her from the office and tells 15 year old Izzy to “Dress appropriately, Ms. Spellman”, Izzy dresses up in her brother’s old nerd costume and packs a lunch in his briefcase. When the interview begins, she breaks out a napkin and starts eating. Really, I was crying by this point. But my favorite lines come at the end of the interview, which I have to quote here:
ALBERT: Why should we hire you?
ISABEL: Do I need to remind you that I already work here?
ALBERT: Tell me how you can contribute to our organization.
ISABEL: Please. Just let me drink the Kool-Aid.
ALBERT: That’s it, Isabel. Get out of here!
ISABEL: It’s been a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Melman.

Ms. Lutz varies the narration in a lot of different ways, including transcripts from Izzy’s court-ordered therapy sessions, more traditionally narrated passages, appendices, case files, and flashbacks like the one I just mentioned. The back and forth between the family mysteries and the ones Izzy is hired to solve mesh perfectly, while the snarky footnotes help make this book a winner.

My only criticism is that the actual mysteries Izzy has to solve really aren’t that interesting to me. The family dynamic is what keeps you turning the pages and wanting more. I think if you know that going in, you’re really going to love this book, but if you’re looking for a gritty, hardcore mystery, this is probably not the book for you. I’m also not thrilled by the cover art, but it seems in keeping with other books in the genre, such as the Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich, so I’m sure that was intentional.

In the end, this was a lot of fun to read, and I’ll definitely be catching up on the series before the fifth book is released in February. If you’re the mood for a good laugh, you really can’t go wrong with Revenge of the Spellmans.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Early Review of Jessica Andersen's Lord of the Wolfyn

Title: Lord of the Wolfyn (Royal House of Shadows #3)
Author: Jessica Andersen
Publisher: Harlequin Nocturne
Formats: Mass Market Paperback & Ebook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: October 18, 2011
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Gena Showalter and Nalini Singh are two of my favorite authors, so when Harlequin announced that they would be releasing a series of paranormal romances with the first and last books written by Showalter and Singh, I was thrilled. I was really disappointed in the first book of the series by Showalter, Lord of the Vampires, because it felt disjointed and rushed, but Lord of the Wolfyn was much better. Before reading the third installment of the series, I had never read anything by Jessica Andersen, but I’ll be looking for more of her books in the future, because this was a fun read, even if the phrase “wolfyn” had me cringing every time I read it.
If you haven’t read any of the other books in the series, you’ll be able to follow along with ease, as there’s a short prologue that sets up the back story. Also, each of the books is based on a fairy tale, with Lord of the Wolfyn based on the story of Little Red Riding Hood. In all of the books, the Blood Sorcerer (whom we have yet to meet) attacks the Royal Castle of Elden, killing the king and queen. The parents manage to protect their four children by using the last of their powers to send the children to different dimensions. Prince Dayn, the second son, finds himself in the realm of the Wolfyn, shapeshifters who are hunted in his realm of vampires. (Quick side note – I cringe every time I write the word wolfyn – surely there was a better name for the werewolves?)  One of Dayn’s father’s last acts was to tell his son that when the time was right, they would send a guide to lead him back to the Castle of Elden. Once the guide arrived, Dayn would have four days to return to Elden and join his siblings against the Blood Sorcerer.
We then flash forward 20 years to the present in the Human realm where we meet Alfreda (Reda) Weston, red-headed cop. Reda’s in a bit of funk, because she froze when her partner was killed and has had problems with her self-confidence ever since. When she finally is able to recover a copy of an old version of Little Red Riding Hood that her mother gave her years ago, she purchases the book, little realizing that reading it would send her into the Wolfyn realm. And luckily for her, Dayn happens to be observing the portal that day, and he immediately recognizes her as his guide. Not surprisingly, Reda is more than a little freaked out at her new surroundings. Who wouldn’t be? First you’re reading a book, then POOF! you find yourself in another realm with some hottie telling you what to do. Happens to me ALL the time. Since Dayn desperately wants to be reunited with his family, he has to find a way to convince Reda to help him and in so doing give her confidence she’s lost since her partner’s death.
My absolute favorite aspect of this novel is that it is action-packed. The four day deadline adds suspense to the drama, since you’re wondering if Dayn will be able to convince Reda to help him in time to make it home before the four days are up. Additionally, there’s the concern that when he does arrive, he’ll be the only one of his siblings to have made it. We don’t witness any family reunions in the book, but the ending implies that the others are in fact in other parts of Elden, if not there during Dayn’s battles. I like that there was a resolution to the book, even if the overarching storyline about the Blood Sorcerer won’t be resolved until Nalini Singh’s book is released next month.
I also liked how the fairy tale was tied in with the story. The connection Reda feels with her dead mother and the book of Rutakoppchen with its wood carvings nicely tie the original tale of the wolf and the hunter in with the current plot. Andersen adds a nice twist to the legend by making the wolf in the novel a werewolf (or wolfyn), and Dayn’s connection to the wolfyn realm is an interesting one, especially since he’s hunting wolfyn in the prologue before being sent to the other realm.  
Unfortunately Reda is not a strong heroine. I think that we’re supposed to sympathize with her because she’s experienced so much tragedy, but her actions at the beginning of the novel make her come across as really weak. When she does become more assertive, the change is abrupt, and I found it a little disconcerting. I enjoy reading novels that show a weaker heroine finding her own strength, but Reda’s change from wimp to warrior woman occurred during her transition from one realm to the other, which left her almost unrecognizable even to the hero when they met up again.
I think the book suffers a bit from its shorter length as well, because Reda’s character issues could have been resolved if they had been spread out over more of the book. Also, there’s a period when Dayn and Reda are separated, and I would have liked to have seen Reda’s actions during that time. When the two meet up again, she’s suddenly the more confident guardswoman that you would have thought a cop would be anyway. Since this change seems to occur while she’s ‘off-screen,’ I think including that time they’re apart would have tempered some of the issues I had with her character development.
However, I very much enjoyed the book. It was a fun, quick read, and the romance between Dayn and Reda was sizzling. I’m looking forward of the conclusion to the series, and I’ll definitely be checking out more of Ms. Andersen’s books.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Review of Down These Strange Streets

Title: Down These Strange Streets
Editors: George R.R. Marin & Gardner Dozois
Publisher: Ace Hardcover
Formats: Hardback & Ebook
Source: Purchased
Publication Date: October 4, 2011
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Despite its hardcover price, this is one of the better anthologies that I’ve read and well worth the money. The stories are outstanding and varied, and there’s a clear connection between them, as described in the prologue “The Bastard Stepchild,” written by George R. R. Martin. The bastard stepchild to which he refers is Urban Fantasy, an amalgam of the horror and mystery genres, and each of the stories features a mystery and detective of some sort. The anthology includes a total of sixteen stories, plus the prologue by George R. R. Martin. Originally I had planned on only mentioned a few of my favorite stories, but the excellent writing made it difficult to limit this review to only some of the entries. Here a few comments about each of the stories.
1.      “Death by Dahlia” by Charlaine Harris We first met vampire Dahlia Lynly Chivers in the story “Tacky” in My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding, and she’s long been a favorite of mine. In “Death by Dahlia” the vampires have a new sheriff in control of their nest and they’re celebrating his installation with a huge party. When one of the human blood donors is murdered, Dahlia steps in to investigate. I’m not a fan of Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse books, but I always enjoy her Dahlia stories set in that world, and this one is no exception. It’s one of the more light-hearted offerings in the collection and is lots of fun. 3.5 out of 5

2.      “The Bleeding Shadow” by Joe R. Lansdale This story has a film noir feel to it, and I loved it. The gritty private detective is asked by a hot dame to look into her brother’s disappearance when a record with some demonic sounding blues arrives at her house with frightening consequences. 3.5 out of 5

3.      “Hungry Heart” by Simon R. Green Another lighthearted addition to the anthology, Green’s contribution features detective John Taylor from Green’s Nightside series. A young witch hires Taylor to recover her heart from her former mentor, but it turns out that the box holding her heart is of interest to many parties. The clever ending and Taylor’s humor throughout made this story a blast. 4 out of 5

4.      “Styx and Stones” by Steven Saylor This story is part of Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa series that stars Gordianus the Finder, and while it’s the first of his work I’ve read, it certainly won’t be the last. In this prequel to the series, we witness Gordianus as a teenager visiting the Seven Wonders of the World. When he and his companion Antipater arrive in Babylon, Gordianus is intrigued by the haunting of a nearby temple. While my four years of high school Latin aren’t enough to attest to the historical accuracy of the story, it’s a lot of fun and one of my favorites of the collection. 4 out of 5

5.      “Pain and Suffering” by S. M. Stirling This story had a more paranormal feel to it than many of the others. Cop Eric Salvador finds his nightmares of his time in Afghanistan taking a strange turn when he and his partner investigate a bizarre arson and missing persons case. I enjoyed the story, but the ending felt abrupt and a bit open-ended, making me wonder if this is part of a series I’m not familiar with, although the short intro to the story didn’t indicate that it was. 3.5 out of 5

6.      “It’s Still the Same Old Story” by Carrie Vaughn Set in the world of Vaughn’s Kitty Norville series, this story features vampire Rick, who responds to a phone call from an old friend, only to find her murdered. There isn’t much of a mystery, as Rick knows from the beginning who’s responsible for his friend’s death, but the flashbacks to when they met and how the mystery unfolds make this an enjoyable read. 3 out of 5

7.      “The Lady is a Screamer” by Conn Iggulden Narrator Jack Garner is a charmer of a conman, working as a ghostbuster after years of taking advantage of grieving families by pretending to be a psychic. While he doesn’t seem all that likeable at the beginning, by the end you’ll be rooting for this ne’er do well. This was one of my favorites, no doubt because of the hero’s ability to win the reader over. 4 out of 5

8.      “Hellbender” by Laurie R. King I enjoyed this entry by King that features a private detective who’s more than human. He’s approached by a woman to investigate the disappearance of her brother and seven other missing people. His digging into the mystery attracts some frightening attention, uncovering some disturbing interest into “scientific” developments. I liked how the story and truth about the hero unfolded, plus the twist about the government at the end made me laugh. 4.5 out of 5

9.      “Shadow Thieves” by Glen Cook This is part of Cook’s Garret, P.I. series and almost lost me only a few pages in. Garret is approached by several different parties to recover a powerful artifact, but it’s very unclear who is trustworthy and who’s the rightful owner. The world building was intriguing, but the rough beginning and my lack of connection to the characters made this the weakest of the collection for me. I suspect that if I’d read other books in the series, however, I might feel differently. 3 out of 5

10.  “No Mystery, No Miracle” by Melinda M. Snodgrass Set during the days of the Great Depression, Snodgrass plays with several mythologies and religions while creating a fascinating story. The hero, Cross, is posing as a hobo to look into some suspicious hobo markings that resemble signs from old gods. His investigation has him acting to ensure FDR’s presidential nomination in mysterious ways. This story has some of the tightest writing in the collection. 4.5 out of 5

11.  “The Difference Between a Puzzle and a Mystery” by M. L. N. Hanover Cops call in an exorcist when they discover the body of a young woman apparently sacrificed in some sort of occult ritual. The man arrested for the crime claims to be possessed by a demon, but the real mystery stems from his reaction when confronted by the exorcist. Very intriguing story and I liked the resolution that still left some mysteries unexplained. 4 out of 5

12.  “The Curious Affair of the Deodand” by Lisa Tuttle Set in the nineteenth century, Miss Lane is a gentlewoman seeking employment who finds herself acting as an assistant to a young detective. A man approaches them on his fiancĂ©e’s behalf, asking that they investigate her former fiancĂ©’s death. The story began well, and I was intrigued by the female heroine’s role as Watson, but the ending left me a bit cold. Not badly written, but a little lacking in action or suspense. 3 out of 5

13.  “Lord John and the Plague of Zombies” by Diana Gabaldon I haven’t read any of Gabaldon’s books, which no doubt affected my enjoyment of this story since Lord John is a recurring character in her Outlander series and has his own series. I actually stopped reading and had to pick the story up again later, because it didn’t capture my interest. However, if you’re a fan of her series, you’ll no doubt enjoy reading about Lord John’s adventures in the West Indies, and the various creepy crawlies on the island were almost more frightening the actual zombies. 3 out of 5

14.  “Beware the Snake” by John Maddox Roberts Part of the author’s SPQR series of mysteries set in Ancient Rome, this story was a hoot. Decius Caecilius is asked by Caesar to investigate a missing swamp adder, a sacred being to some powerful allies of Rome. Decius’ dry humor makes light of the mystery, but the ending is a lot of fun, even though the story went by too quickly. As with “Styx and Stones”, I can’t attest to the historical accuracy of the story, but it was so enjoyable I’ll definitely be reading more of this author. 4 out of 5

15.  “In Red, with Pearls” by Patricia Briggs This story is set in the world of Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series and features werewolf Warren, who is a favorite of mine. When his lover Kyle is attacked by a zombie, Warren steps in to investigate. I loved seeing Warren and Kyle together, and this was a tightly written story that draws you in at once. While I figured out the villain fairly quickly, there were several surprises. This is another winner from Briggs and a must for Mercy Thompson fans. 4 out of 5

16.  “The Adakian Eagle” by Bradley Denton The choice to end the collection with Denton’s story was a wise one, as it is outstanding. Set on the Aleutian Islands during World War II and featuring a young private and an older detective (whom you will recognize once you’re well into the story), this mystery will keep you turning the pages. The discovery of a tortured eagle on the island leads to an investigation that exposes all the pitfalls of following orders without question. I loved the setting and the gritty tone of this story. 5 out of 5

Thursday, October 6, 2011

What I’ve Learned From Ladies’ Night Out

This is the patented "look of death" the DH gets when I don't go out for Ladies' Night.

A few years ago, my husband got a job in the Midwest, and we moved to a new town where I knew no one. To make matters worse, I was no longer working full-time, so it was a difficult transition. Thank goodness one of the ladies in town decided that it would be a great idea to start a Ladies’ Night Out. We get together every Thursday night, have a drink, and vent about our husbands, kids, and life in general. Since the idea involves wine and no husbands or kids, it’s really popular. Let me tell you, if you don’t have a ladies’ night of your own, you need to get one pronto, because it’s a real life saver. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned from our ladies’ night.
1. I may be crazy, but I’ll be in great company at the Loony Bin.
One of the benefits of having a group of friends to vent with is that you quickly realize you’re not as nutty as you thought you were. Apparently I am not the only woman to lock herself in the bathroom and beat the stuffing out of an innocent tube of Colgate Sensitive Whitening Toothpaste in an effort to avoid beating the tar out of the DH. Sadly, I did not learn this lesson before I broke our cable remote, and now we can only change channels by holding the remote at a 57 degree angle and frantically pressing the buttons. Of course, whenever the DH reminds me of this while trying to flip channels during the playoffs, I point out that if he hadn’t done whatever the heck it was he did to tick me off, the remote would still be functioning properly. So it’s really his fault. Duh.
2. Ladies’ Night is an effective form of birth control.
I’m one of the few ladies in the group without children, and I’ve gotta tell ya, I may never have kids after hearing some of the horror stories. Kids say the darnedest things, and apparently they say them in public at the top of their lungs, while ensuring that complete strangers will assume that you’re beating the kids and call child protective services. I’ve also learned that your body will never ever be the same after childbirth, and the culprits (we’ve not decided if the husbands or the kids are most to blame) will NOT appreciate what you’ve gone through. Plus, you’ll never sleep in on a Saturday again. I’m rather fond of my sleep and (to some extent) my dignity, so clearly I should just avoid having kids, even though all the mothers in the group insist that, in the end, it was all worth it.
On the plus side, Ladies’ Night is also a great resource for women with kids, because they get to share ideas and learn about local events in addition to comparing stories about their kids. It’s a great way to vent and hear from the other women that you’re not the only one experiencing certain types of problems. On the down side some of these kids are going to grow up wondering why Miss Rebecca always snickers whenever she sees them.
3. What happens at Ladies’ Night stays at Ladies’ Night - Unless your husband does something really, really stupid.
Several of the husbands are colleagues of my husband, but even if they weren’t, there are some things you just shouldn’t share with other people. Likewise, I’m certainly not sharing with the DH some of the things we’ve discussed over our glass(es) of wine. However, if your husband does something really, really dumb, and you think the other husbands could benefit from hearing about it, you are contractually obligated by the Ladies’ Night Constitution[1] to share said incident with the other ladies.
Now, my DH gives outstanding and thoughtful gifts. You’d never catch him gifting me with a household appliance. In fact, when Her Royal Highness the beagle got bladder surgery and started peeing all over the carpet, I told the DH I wanted to buy a Hoover Steam Vac as my Valentine’s Day present. The DH immediately spotted the pitfalls and headed me off at the pass by saying, “If you need the vac, go ahead and get it! That’s not going to be a present!” (insert nervous, high-pitched laughter). His mama didn’t raise a fool, for which I am eternally grateful.
Sadly, not all husbands are quite as enlightened. Take my friend “Susan”, whose name has been changed to protect the innocent (her kids) from ridicule (we and the other husbands have already ridiculed her husband). Now, “Susan” has naturally curly hair, and around the time of her birthday she was lusting after one of those fancy-schmancy flat irons that cost a small fortune. So when her birthday came around, guess what she got from her DH? An exercise bike. Yup. Nothing says I love you like a present that screams “YOU’RE FAT!!!” What makes this worse is that she’s absolutely tiny. Yes, “Susan” is probably the tiniest of all of us and not in any need of an exercise bike. Needless to say, this story has been repeated at home several times to prevent the DH from EVER making that sort of mistake.
So Ladies’ Night is definitely a necessity, if only to educate our husbands on proper gift-giving etiquette and to avoid assault charges. You bet your booty (or, if you have kids, bum) that I’m there every week without fail. The DH enjoys it, because I always come back in a MUCH better mood (no doubt because of the wine), and for me it’s a great start to the weekend. Do any of you have ladies’ nights out with your friends? Spill the goods!

[1] The Ladies’ Night Constitution is not written down, but if it were, it would insist upon wine being served at each meeting. It’s a lot easier not to pull out your hair if you’re uncoordinated.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Glomming on Contemporaries

Yesterday I mentioned that I’m a bit burned out on historical romances, which is a bummer, since historical romances were my first "wuv, twue wuv." So to break the slump, I’ve been reading lots of contemporaries, which is a bit unusual. In fact, for me contemporaries usually rank right above Romantic Suspense. In other words, they fit in the take-em-or-leave-em category. But a few have really drawn me in lately, so here are some mini-reviews of ones I’ve enjoyed lately. I have to warn you, though - these may lead to your stocking up on the authors’ backlists!
Rachel Gibson Not Another Bad Date (Writers #4) I’m a sucker for reunited lovers, and this book is a charmer! Fantasy Author Adele Harris jumps to her sister’s rescue when her seemingly perfect marriage falls apart and her sister finds herself hospitalized. Adele steps in to look after her tween niece, little realizing that her niece’s new friend is the daughter of the guy who got away in college, former pro football player Zach Zemaitis. He’s a single parent, since his snooty Junior League wife was t-boned by a garbage truck, and trust me, her accident is definitely an example of karma at work. He broke Adele’s heart in college when his former girlfriend (aforementioned Junior League member) announced she was pregnant. He’s not interested in forever, especially since he’s got a 13 year old daughter, but true love manages to save the day, despite the former wife’s intervention from beyond the grave. Really cute novel that has me catching up on Ms. Gibson’s backlist.
Susan Mallery Only His (Fool’s Gold #6) You really can’t go wrong with Ms. Mallery’s heartwarming contemporaries. This is the last installment in her latest Fool’s Gold trilogy (more to be released next year, yay!). Like Not Another Bad Date, this book features reunited lovers, in this case triplet Nevada Hendrix and Tucker Janack. Nevada wants to spread her wings and work for someone other than her brother, and when Janack Construction announces they’re building a casino, she decides to apply for an engineering job, believing that she’ll be interviewed by the senior Janack. She’s shocked to discover that Tucker Janack is running the show. They had a one night stand that resulted in his calling her his ex-girlfriend’s name, and Nevada was crushed. They manage to work everything out in the end, despite the former nutcase girlfriend showing up, and this delightful romance features no fewer than 3 couples. The romance between bartender Jo and Tucker’s friend Will is just as appealing as that of Nevada and Tucker, while the third couple consists of Nevada’s mother Denise and her long-ago boyfriend Max. The older couple manages to create some cringe worthy moments that are hilarious, while Tucker’s former girlfriend decides to donate a statue to the city that’s in questionable taste. Definitely a fun read that leaves you wanting more, and you will NEVER forget where Tucker proposes.
Carly Phillips Serendipity I was prepared to dislike the heroine of this book, because I was afraid she’d come off as a spoiled little princess, but she’s actually nothing like that. Faith Harrington’s husband divorces her when her father is sent to prison for a Madoff type ponzi scheme, and Faith returns to her small town to start her own decorating business. When she runs into the town’s bad boy, Ethan Barron, her new business gets a boost when he hires her to decorate her former family home. Even better, her love life picks up. Ethan’s got his own family issues, since his parents died when he was 18, and he abandoned his two younger brothers to the foster care system. He’s hoping to establish a relationship with them, which becomes all the more complicated when their fourteen year old half sister is dumped at Ethan’s doorstep. Despite all the complications, Faith and Ethan are likeable characters you’ll want to root for, and the fact that Ethan is a bad boy on a motorcycle proves irresistible.
Christina Dodd Revenge at Bella Terra (Scarlet Deception #2) I confess that I had my doubts about how Ms. Dodd was going to pull this novel off, but she has another winner with Revenge at Bella Terra. Eli Di Lucca is in dire financial straits and too proud to ask his family for help, setting the stage for a marriage of convenience. He agrees to marry Italian businessman Tamosso Conte’s daughter Chloe if Conte will pay off his debts. Since Chloe is completely unaware of the deal, I’m sure you can see why I had my doubts! Chloe is starting her second mystery novel and already suspects her estranged father of matchmaking, so Eli has his work cut out for him. But the two end up spending a lot of time together when a mummified body is discovered at a local water tower owned by Eli, and sparks start to fly. He manages to get the girl, but convincing Chloe to stay once she learns the truth is the hard part. Watching the strong, silent type fall for the creative Chloe is a real pleasure, and while the villain was a bit predictable, the mystery is no less enjoyable. It’s going to be hard to wait until the third book comes out in April!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Review of Wendy Soliman’s A Scandalous Proposition

Title: A Scandalous Proposition
Author: Wendy Soliman
Publisher: Carina Press           
Formats: Ebook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: September 12, 2011
Rating: 2.75 out of 5
I think I’ve become a bit burned out on historical romances, because with only a few exceptions, the ones I’ve read lately have been mildly interesting at best and yawn-inspiring at worst. Wendy Soliman’s A Scandalous Proposition falls somewhere in between there. It’s not a badly written novel; it’s just not all that interesting either. I requested this book for review because it features a Spanish heroine, which I found intriguing, but honestly Florentina Grantley could have come from any country invaded by Napoleon and it wouldn’t have changed the novel a bit.
The novel begins with Lord Adam Fitzroy at a tavern, where he rescues a “Mrs. Smith” from a man claiming to be her brother by allowing her to hide under the tablecloth. Mrs. Smith is clearly a gentlewoman, and when Lord Fitzroy discovers that they share the same destination, he offers to give her a ride on his horse (not a euphemism!). After dropping her off, he heads for the local brothel and is surprised and disappointed when “Mrs. Smith” arrives to meet with the madam. His surprise is all the greater the next day when he meets Mrs. Florentina Grantley, his mother’s new companion, and discovers that she is the infamous “Mrs. Smith” he met the night before. Believing Florentina to be a courtesan, he threatens to expose her to his mother if she doesn’t engage in an affair with him.
This is my first problem with the book. The hero just isn’t all that likeable at the beginning. He is blackmailing the heroine into a sexual relationship, and while he redeems himself fairly quickly, we also know (or at least it is implied) that the night he saw Florentina at the brothel he did the dirty with the madam, Christine. Ick. I’m not a huge fan of love at first sight, so I certainly don’t mind that he’s not swearing his eternal love for her already. However, I find it a little off-putting that he gets his groove on with the Madam while attracted to the heroine. Now, he’s definitely not cheating on her, because as of yet they haven’t begun any sort of relationship, but it wasn’t a selling point, that’s for sure. Do I want my heroes to be as chaste as the driven snow? Um, no, but I would prefer that they don’t have sex with an Abbess right after acknowledging an attraction to another woman.
As I mentioned earlier, the novel’s Spanish elements were what drew me to the book, but they were pretty much limited to character and place names. Really, the author could have substituted French names for the characters and locations, and with a few minor adjustments the plot would have been the same. Florentina is the widow of a British soldier serving in the war against Napoleon on the continent and she and her brother act as spies for the British. When she returns home to discover that her town has been ransacked and her parents killed by the French, she rescues her younger brother and sister and arranges to have all of them taken to England. Unfortunately, it turns out that the Captain to whom she’s entrusted their lives has plans to sell her and several of the other young women into sexual slavery. Florentina’s excellent English allows her to overhear the plot and arrange for escape. She’s been working ever since with the madam Christine and an English lord to rescue other victims from the same men, thus explaining her presence at the brothel when Adam Fitzroy mistakes her for a courtesan.
While the plot has a few miraculous coincidences, namely Florentina’s rescue at the hands of Christine, overall it works well as a romantic suspense, and Adam and Florentina’s romance is encouraged by the secondary characters. Unfortunately Florentina is portrayed as fiery and impulsive, which frequently translates into too stupid to live. Also, Adam and the men he gathers to capture the villains are supposedly all spies and soldiers, yet prove surprisingly inept during the denouement.
This isn’t a bad novel, because it kept my interest long enough to keep reading, but it certainly isn’t a good one either. My mother would have slapped a few of these characters silly, because everyone has a bad habit of interrupting one another, which grew tiring, but hopefully was corrected before publication. Although now that I think about it, my mother doesn’t tolerate fools lightly, so she probably would have slapped Florentina silly as well. I’d originally marked this book as deserving a 3 out of 5, but after thinking about it, I think it has to be a 2.75. Definitely a C- .