Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Review of Vivi Andrews's Spinning Gold

Title: Spinning Gold
Author: Vivi Andrews
Publisher: Self-published
Format: eBook
Source: won from author
Publication Date: June 16, 2012
Rating: 4 out of 5

Vivi Andrews is one of my favorite Paranormal Romance authors, so when she had a contest on her blog for her new short novel Spinning Gold, I immediately signed up. I was thrilled when I won (woo-hoo!), but when I went to Goodreads to rate the book, I was surprised to find that not a single review had been written, so I thought I'd write up a quick one.
Unlike many of Ms. Andrews’s paranormal romances, Spinning Gold  is a re-telling of the story of Rumpelstiltskin. Juliana Ravel finds herself in a sticky situation, because her brother has been falsely accused of treason in an attempt by her country's Prince to acquire her family's considerable wealth. When Juliana faces the Prince to plead for her brother’s freedom, she finds herself stating that her family spins gold out of straw (and she has no idea where that lie came from). The Prince decides to test her claims, and imprisons her.
Fortunately for Juliana, it turns out that the family medallion she wears around her neck imprisons none other than a Golden Fae man named Rue, who helps her on the condition that she free him from the medallion when he's done. Over the course of the novel, Juliana and Rue fall in love.
The book is well-written, and Juliana and Rue are engaging protagonists with lots of heat between them. I haven't read the original fairy tale in years, so I can't remember how close to the story this is, but it was fun to read and the chemistry between the two was sizzling. While it wasn't quite as humorous as many of the other books Ms. Andrews is known for (my favorite has to be The Sexorcist), it did have its moments. I also found myself surprised by the ending, as I wasn't sure how Ms. Andrews would pull off a HEA.
I do wish that we could have seen more of Juliana’s activities aiding the revolution. She finally decides to act by stirring up rumors about the Prince’s behavior, and I really enjoyed seeing her overcome her sense of helplessness. However, there wasn’t much detail given about her activities, and I would have liked to have seen a bit more of her development. At the beginning of the novel she was very daring in facing the Prince to save her brother, but once she was thrown in prison, she wilted a bit (although I must admit that the circumstances would be disheartening for anyone). It was great to see her regain her courage; I just wish we could have witnessed more of it.
I believe this book is self-published, which I think has hurt it in terms of sales because of the lack of publicity around the book. This is unfortunate, as the book is as professionally written and edited as Ms. Andrews’s other books and worthy of more attention than it's currently receiving.
If you're a fan of fairy tales, I definitely recommend this short novel!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Review of Kristan Higgins’s Somebody to Love

Title: Somebody to Love
Author: Kristan Higgins
Publisher: HQN Books
Format: Mass Market Paperback & eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: April 24, 2012
Rating: 4 out of 5

Kristan Higgins has long been a favorite author of mine. I love her contemporary romances, no doubt because they ALL have adorable dogs in them! Somebody to Love is no exception, and it has some howling good times. While Somebody to Love is a stand-alone novel, the heroine, Parker Welles, is the best friend in The Next Best Thing, and most of the action takes place in the small town of Gideon’s Cove, Maine, setting of Catch of the Day. I’m afraid Catch of the Day has the dubious distinction of having caused me to bawl my eyes out, because a certain pivotal character passes away, but I still re-read it regularly, thanks to my highlighting feature on the Kindle, which allows me to skip any crying parts. Just like Catch of the Day, I plan on re-reading Somebody to Love many times, because it’s another winner, with strong, likeable characters and a good dose of humor.
As the novel begins, Parker Welles’s father shows up at the family mansion and announces that he’s lost all his money on Wall Street (through insider trading, no less), including both Parker and her son Nicky’s trust funds. They’re broke, and single mother Parker has to find a way to find them a new home. In the wreckage, Parker discovers that a great aunt left her a house in Gideon’s Cove, which hopefully can be flipped and turn enough of a profit to bulk up her small savings while she finds work.
James Cahill is one of Harry Welles’s lawyers, but he’s not the yes-man Harry’s other lawyers have been. He offers to help Parker flip her dilapidated house in Maine, since he spent years as a teenager working construction, and Parker reluctantly agrees. Add in the presence of a rescue dog named Beauty and some hot summer lovin’ and you have the makings of a great romance.
Despite Parker’s trust fund baby roots, she’s a really appealing heroine. I love her sense of humor, especially with the Holy Rollers, characters in the children’s books she wrote. As a sarcastic joke, she pitched a story about young angels needing to earn their wings and travel around on roller skates, eating only angel food cake. Naturally the saccharine sweet mess was a huge success, and Parker finds herself “talking” to her now teenaged characters throughout the mess that is her life. Her humor makes her a likeable character, but it’s her reaction to learning that she’s lost everything that makes her so engaging. She manages to keep it together for the sake of her son and works hard to make the best of things without dwelling on her situation.
James is a fabulous hero, sexy and vulnerable. He has a troubled past that’s caused problems within his family, but ever since he met Parker he’s had a thing for her. Unfortunately his choice of profession and relationship with Parker’s father has made it hard for Parker to see what a great guy he is. My one complaint with James is that he had a bit of a martyr complex, but once you learn about his past that becomes more understandable.
Overall, Somebody to Love was a heartwarming romance with two very likeable characters. This is the second contemporary romance I’ve read recently that features a formerly rich girl with a greedy Madoff-like father, and I enjoyed both of them. (Serendipity by Carly Phillips is the other – also a winner) If you’re looking for a fun summer read, I definitely recommend Somebody to Love.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Review of Rhyannon Byrd's Deadly is the Kiss

Title: Deadly is the Kiss (Grangers #1)
Author: Rhyannon Byrd
Publisher: HQN Books
Format: Mass Market Paperback & eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: March 27, 2012
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

This is the first book I’ve read by Rhyannon Byrd, and if you’re new to her books as well this would be a good place to start. Deadly is the Kiss is the first in her Grangers series, a spin-off of her Primal Instincts paranormal romance series. While there were references to characters from the other series, you can easily follow along the action, and the story is for the most part self-contained.
At times Deadly is the Kiss felt like two different books – the first half was devoted to the fated mates connecting physically, while the second half was more action packed. I have to confess that I was a little turned off by how quickly the hero and heroine jumped into bed together, but I thoroughly enjoyed the second half, which kept me turning the pages.
Ashe Granger is a vampire warrior, and for the past year he’s been obsessed with learning why the Sabin family was imprisoned in the Wasteland, the vampire prison. He’s caught in the “burning,” a sign that he’s met his mate. Unfortunately that mate is Juliana Sabin, and the two have never gotten along. Ashe has tried to suppress the effects of the burning and is searching for a way to avoid spending a lifetime with a criminal, but when he meets an informant to learn more about Juliana’s imprisonment, he’s stunned to find Juliana sitting on a restaurant patio in London.
Juliana has managed to escape the Wasteland thanks to the efforts of a mysterious benefactor, and she needs Ashe’s help. Her family’s been targeted by assassins, and she has to prove that the charges against her family were false so the assassins can be called off. She resents having to ask Ashe for help, since the few times she’s seen him at the Wasteland he’s been a womanizer, but he’s the best and she needs all the help she can get. She never counted on his returning her secret attraction. But will he still help her when he learns the reason she and her family were imprisoned?
The second half of this book was fabulous. It’s action packed, and the pages just fly by. Each time Juliana and Ashe manage to escape the assassins sent to kill her, they find themselves in another dangerous situation and have to fight their way out. They’re also fighting the clock to find the evidence needed to save Juliana’s family, and while at first it seems obvious who the villain is, there are some intriguing twists at the end.
The chemistry between Juliana and Ashe is off the charts. Unfortunately, this chemistry results in an encounter in an elevator and 2 sex scenes all before my Kindle hit the 48% mark, which I found a bit off-putting. I suspect that for long-time fans of the Primal Instinct series, Juliana and Ashe are familiar secondary characters, establishing a history for the two which explains the leaps into the sack, but as a new reader of Ms. Byrd’s books, I was a little clueless about their history. I’m not sure I would have continued reading if I weren’t reading the book for review, which would be a shame, because the second half was much, much better.
Juliana is an interesting character, and at times I really liked her while other times I just wanted to smack some sense into her. Whenever there was a big fight scene, Ashe would tell her to stay put, yet she’d always venture out into the thick of things and then get into trouble. Frankly, she verged into TSTL territory, and I had to wonder if she’d never seen a horror movie. Besides, I kept wondering why she would seek out an experienced warrior then not listen to his advice.
The second half of the novel was good enough to make up for the squicky love scenes in the first half. In fact, I’ll be checking out some of the Primal Instinct books, because I enjoyed the flow of the last part of the book so much. As for future installments of the Granger series, I expect that Ashe’s brother will be the hero of the next novel and look forward to reading more about him.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Review of Susanna Kearsley’s Mariana

Title: Mariana
Author: Susanna Kearsley
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Format: Trade Paperback & eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: April 1, 2012
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

This past summer there was a huge sale on ebooks at Amazon, and one of the books I downloaded to my Kindle was Susanna Kearsley’s The Winter Sea. It was outstanding, and ever since I’ve been a fan of her writing. I’m not sure that her books qualify as romances, although they have strong romantic elements in them, nor do they seem to fit in the category of women’s fiction. All three of Ms. Kearsley’s books that I’ve read (The Winter Sea, The Rose Garden, and Mariana) deal with either time travel or some type of reincarnation. I love how she incorporates history into her fiction without huge info dumps, because she brings the history alive for the reader through the characters’ experiences. Mariana was originally published in 1994 and is now being reissued by Sourcebooks. I’m delighted to say that it stands up to the test of time very, very well, and I highly recommend it.
Narrator Julia Beckett is an illustrator of children’s books, and years ago on a family vacation she spotted a house, Greywethers, that she just knew was “her” house. Many years later as an adult, she comes across it again, and armed with a recent inheritance, she impulsively purchases the home and moves from London to Wiltshire. But the longer she resides in Greywethers, the more unusual her experiences become. She starts to relive the life of Mariana Farr, a young woman who escaped the plague in London of the 1660s, and the more Julia relives Mariana’s life, the more she begins to see parallels in her present day existence.
The central romance in Mariana is not Julia’s – rather it is Mariana’s affair with local gentleman Sir Richard de Mornay. Mariana has fled London to stay with her uncle Jabez, a dour and cruel man who has ordered her not to speak to the stunningly beautiful Richard. Unfortunately Mariana’s parents taught her to think for herself, and the temptation of Richard proves too much to bear.
The intriguing part of Mariana is how Julia’s present day life intersects with that of Mariana. Julia never knows when she will be unexpectedly thrust into Mariana’s life and wonders if she is in fact Mariana reincarnated. As Julia learns more about Mariana’s relationships in the 1660s, she starts to look around to see if Richard or any of Mariana’s other friends are also taking this journey with her.
I can’t stress enough how much I enjoy the way Ms. Kearsley incorporates the history into her text. Mariana relives the history, which allows us to relive it along with her, making it easier to understand how different factions during the tempestuous period in England would have fared after the fall of Cromwell. The romance between Mariana and Richard sets up a similar one between Julia and another character, but we’re left uncertain about that character’s name until the very end, although I had guessed who it was fairly early on.
I did find Julia’s initial jumps into Mariana’s time to be a bit disconcerting, because they weren’t indicated by any sort of break in the text. However, this replicates Julia’s experience, and after a quick check back the first time, I was soon able to follow along without any difficulty. I do wish that we could have seen more of Julia’s romance develop, as we do in Ms. Kearsley’s later novels, but it certainly makes for an intriguing ending.
I absolutely loved this book, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Fans of Diana Gabaldon and Lynn Kurland will definitely enjoy Susanna Kearsley’s books, and Mariana is no exception.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Review of Sandy James’s Rules of the Game

Title: Rules of the Game
Author: Sandy James
Publisher: Carina Press
Format: eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: April 2, 2012
Rating: 3 out of 5

I requested this book off NetGalley, because the blurb made it sound like a fun, lighthearted contemporary romance, and it certainly began with a lot of promise. Unfortunately about a third of the way into the book the tone of the novel changed abruptly, leaving me a bit confused. Rules of the Game feels like 2 different books, and while I enjoyed the novel, I think the blurb is a little misleading, and the book needed to be a bit longer to develop fully some of the issues the heroine faces.
The book begins with romance author Maddie Sawyer living in New York City and having to return to Pottsville, Indiana, for her high school reunion. While her author persona, Kathryn West, is sexy and outlandish, Maddie is anything but that, so she decides to find a sexy biker and pay him to pose as her boyfriend for the reunion. She has almost immediate success when she meets hunky Scott Brady at a biker bar, and the two start dating. Both Scott and Maddie have their secrets, but they really hit it off. She agrees to pose as his girlfriend to get his friends and family off his back about dating, and he agrees to accompany her to Indiana for the reunion.
This lighthearted contemporary romance goes off the rails when Maddie and Scott arrive at the reunion, and suddenly Maddie’s orderly life is a disaster. An unexpected visitor to the reunion makes an announcement to the crowd that forces Maddie to face her unpleasant past, and the remainder of the book focuses on how Maddie deals with the changes this brings. Throughout Scott is very supportive and helpful with the changes in Maddie’s life, but when Maddie learns Scott’s real profession (which isn’t down-and-out biker, as she originally believed), it’s the last straw for Maddie. Can she salvage her relationship with Scott while dealing with the astonishing changes in her life?
Despite the abrupt change in tone of the novel, this was an enjoyable read. A LOT happens in only 76,000 words, and at times I felt overwhelmed with what was going on with poor Maddie. You definitely won’t be able to put the book down, because you’ll be frantically turning the pages to see what could possibly go wrong next. I also liked Scott and Maddie’s romance in the beginning of the novel. It definitely was a meet-cute, and both hero and heroine come across as, likeable characters with great chemistry.
While I enjoyed the book, there were some issues that bothered me. First, the unexpected visitor to the high school reunion completely changed the tenor of the book and created a new source of conflict. I thought the change was too abrupt, but I was intrigued by where the novel would go from there. I wish that the blurb were less misleading in how it described the book, but I also think that the first third of the book needed a bit of foreshadowing of future events. One plus is that the reader experiences how out of control Maddie feels at the changes in her life, and the pace of the novel helps with this. However, the conflict is resolved rather quickly at the end, and I felt that this section of the novel could have been developed a bit more. Maddie and Scott’s relationship problems are resolved too quickly.
My other issue has to do with Maddie’s reaction to Scott’s profession. She immediately rejects him for it, which just struck me as bizarre, given her reasonable and mature reactions to other events in the book. Events in her past are supposed to explain Maddie’s knee-jerk reaction and subsequent rejection of Scott, but it was too over the top for me.
Despite feeling like two different books, Rules of the Game was a lot of fun to read. I liked the hero and heroine, and the drama in the book raised some interesting questions. I’ll definitely check out future books by Ms. James and recommend it with a few reservations for lovers of contemporary romance.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Review of Susan Mallery’s Barefoot Season

Title: Barefoot Season
Author: Susan Mallery
Publisher: Mira
Format: Mass Market Paperback & eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: March 27, 2012
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

When it comes to contemporary romance, Susan Mallery is one of my all-time favorite authors. She writes feel-good stories with likeable heroines, and many of those stories are set in small towns. I love the family dynamics in her series, and the heroes are swoon worthy without being so good-looking that you can’t fantasize about running into one of them at the supermarket.
Barefoot Season is nothing like her contemporary romances. In fact, it’s really more women’s fiction with two romantic subplots than it is a romance. It’s a story about the friendship between two damaged yet strong women who manage to resurrect an old friendship despite overwhelming odds. I’ll admit that when I first started to read Barefoot Season I was a little worried about the angst-factor: one of the protagonists is a wounded veteran with a bad case of PTSD. But the novel is filled with humor, and I like that the two female protagonists had their immature moments but for the most part acted like reasonable adults.
The central conflict of the novel revolves around the friendship of Michelle Sanderson and Carly Williams. Right after high school, Carly caught her best friend Michelle in bed with Carly’s fiancé. Carly still married him (big mistake, right?), but Michelle joined the army and hasn’t been back to Blackberry Island in nearly 10 years. Michelle’s forced to return to the Island when she’s seriously wounded in Afghanistan and has to retire from the military. Her mother passed away nearly 6 months ago, and Michelle plans to manage the Bed & Breakfast she inherited, only to learn upon her return that Carly is managing the place for her and living in the owner’s apartment.
Carly’s had a rough time of it as well. Her husband cleaned out their savings and took off only months after their wedding, leaving Carly pregnant. Michelle’s mother offered Carly a job at the Bed & Breakfast, but she took advantage of Carly’s lack of education, and Carly has almost no money in savings and few skills. When Michelle returns, the two former friends butt heads almost immediately, and matters escalate when Michelle learns that her mother took out loans on the B & B that haven’t been paid in months.
Despite an overwhelmingly negative introduction to Michelle’s character when she first sees Carly, Michelle made the novel for me. She’s complex, stubborn, damaged, and defiant, but she’s also strong with a sense of fairness that forces her to face her role in the split with Carly. Her struggle to re-enter the world after her horrific experiences at war is moving, and you root for her to find her way back.
This novel could have been overwhelmingly depressing and dark, yet there’s a sense of lightness and renewal about Michelle’s journey. Given Michelle’s injuries and difficulties rejoining society, I found her sense of fairness towards Carly and the other workers at the B & B really appealing, and her realization that she needs Carly as much as Carly needs her is very satisfying. Both protagonists also exhibit a sense of humor, which makes reading the novel all the more enjoyable.
I also liked that Carly undergoes a transformation in the novel. She’s worked hard for years to support her daughter Gabby, and her romance (the most successful of the romantic subplots) shows us just how difficult it is for a working mother to find time for herself and for love. This romance is all the more complex, because the man Carly falls for is Michelle’s ex-husband, which could have led to more drama than it does.
The only criticism that I have of the novel has to do with Michelle’s romance with former vet Jared. She meets Jared when looking for a new place to live, and thanks to his intervention, she joins a group of veterans to work through her PTSD. Since the romance isn’t central to the plot, we see Jared and Michelle together infrequently, and I never was convinced that he considered her as more than a project, a complaint Michelle tosses at him as well. I just couldn’t get a sense of his feelings for her.
That said, this was a delightful book, and I can’t wait to read future books set on the island. The novel has many poignant moments, but in the end the strength of both women and their friendship makes for a heartwarming story. There are several discussion questions at the back of the book as well, making this an ideal book for book clubs.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Review of Lori Foster's A Perfect Storm

Title: A Perfect Storm (Men Who Walk the Edge of Honor #4)
Author: Lori Foster
Publisher: HQN Books
Format: Mass Market Paperback & eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: March 27, 2012
Rating: 4 out of 5

Lori Foster has long been a favorite of mine, and her recent romantic suspense series, Men Who Walk the Edge of Honor, has been a lot of fun (I love the sexy book covers - Mama Like!). This fourth book in the series, A Perfect Storm, is just the kind of romantic suspense I can handle, full of alpha males and a kick-butt heroine without too much gore and violence. I’m a wimp, what can I say? That said, I was impressed with Ms. Foster’s handling of some sensitive issues. The series deals with human trafficking, and Arizona Snow, the heroine in A Perfect Storm, was a victim rescued by the hero in the third book (Savor the Danger). In that book, Arizona is a loose cannon, acting impetuously and placing herself in danger with no thought to the consequences, but in A Perfect Storm she’s an appealing character, and her story with the sexy bounty hunter Spencer Lark is smoldering.
Arizona Snow’s had a rough life. Her father sold her to human traffickers, and when she managed to escape, they caught up with her and decided to make an example of her to dissuade their other victims from doing the same. Fortunately for Arizona, Jackson (the hero of Savor the Danger) witnesses the men tossing her from a bridge and saves her. Ever since, he’s acted as her big brother, and now that he’s working with Dare and Trace in their security business, she wants to play an important part in freeing other women from similar situations.
Spencer Lark is a bounty hunter who stepped in at the last minute and stole Arizona’s chance at revenge when he interrupted their take down of the human traffickers who once incarcerated her. He’s 32 to Arizona’s 21 and doesn’t want to be attracted to the young woman who’s suffered so much, but he can’t overlook her stunning beauty. Plus, her blunt honesty and tough demeanor are at odds with her vulnerability, a heady combination that he finds hard to resist. When Arizona approaches him to ask for his help in bringing down a suspected group of human traffickers, Spencer agrees, because he knows she’ll act on her own even if he denies her his aid. But working with the young woman makes it tough for the widower to act honorably. Can the two find a future together?
When we first met Arizona in Savor the Danger, she came across as impetuous to the point of stupid, but in A Perfect Storm we learn about the motivation behind Arizona’s actions, and she’s much more likeable. She’s also young, only 21, but she’s definitely matured, and it shows. I really liked her in this book, mainly because of her blunt honesty. Arizona’s very upfront with Spencer, and I found that as appealing as he did. The key to Arizona’s character is not revenge  but strength. She doesn’t want to be perceived as a victim, and that motivates most of her actions.
I also like how Arizona reacts to Spencer’s neighbor, Marla, even if I found it a little bit too good to be true. Given Marla’s past sexual relationship with Spencer, I expected more friction between the two women, but I was pleasantly surprised when that was not the case. However, I did find Arizona’s maturity in the situation a bit odd, given her age.
There’s one scene in the book that really grabbed my attention. The birthday party that the men and their significant others have for Arizona is outstanding for what it reveals the characters of the protagonists and supporting characters. The men and women give Arizona various gifts, and it’s clear that she feels uncomfortable being the center of attention and accepting the gifts, but when one of the men gives her a knife she’s been saving up for, Arizona lights up. I felt that this was the moment when the others accepted Arizona’s capability and toughness as character traits, rather than parts of a persona they believed that she had adopted as a way of dealing with what happened to her.  
Unfortunately, the dramatic ending of the novel undercuts the subtlety of this earlier scene, which is a shame. Once again we see impetuous Arizona acting on her own to prove herself capable of joining the men in their fight against human trafficking, which could have had disastrous results. I found Arizona’s TSTL behavior frustrating, especially since the prior birthday party scene was so effective.
In the end, however, this was an excellent romantic suspense. I wasn’t a fan of Arizona’s before reading the book, but by the end I very much admired her character, and her relationship with Spencer was both touching and sexy. I’m sad to see the series end, but it definitely goes out on a high note.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Favorite Children's Books for Elementary School

Last night I was enjoying the craziness that is Ladies’ Night Out, and one of my friends asked for suggestions for her 1st grader. They’ve been reading aloud some of my favorites (Little House on the Praire, Anne of Green Gables, and The Chronicles of Narnia), but my friend was wondering about other books they could enjoy. I actually had to think for a minute, because it’s been a long time since I’ve read “chapter” books for children, but once I started thinking about it, I realized that I have lots of favorites. Here are just a few of my recommendations – let me know what some of your favorites are!
Eloise by Kay Thompson – I love this six year old girl’s attitude! She knows EVERYTHING there is to know about The Plaza Hotel. And since my sister loves to point out that I’m a know-it-all, clearly Eloise and I are soul mates.
Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective by Donald Sobal – I loved this series growing up, but now that I’m older I have to think that the adults in Encyclopedia Brown’s life found him annoying as all heck. What a smarty-pants…
The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary – I always loved reading about Ralph and his motorcycle. In fact, I like this series better than Cleary’s Beezus and Ramona, probably because that Ramona is a pest. Maybe as the older sister I related too much with poor Beezus.
A Little Princess and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – I’ve always wondered if my love of The Secret Garden didn’t prepare me for my romance novel reading future. Even though the girl in A Little Princess is now just a little bit too twee for my taste, I still love The Secret Garden.
Bunnicula by Deborah Howe, James Howe – a few years ago my sister attended a wool fair (she’s a knitter) and spotted the truly frightening Angora rabbits. She said they looked JUST like Bunnicula, and if you don’t believe me, google pictures of them. Those suckers are creepy. And how can anyone resist the third book in the series, The Celery Stalks at Midnight?
The Borrowers by Mary Norten – this British novel is a charmer, although younger readers might have a problem with some of the language from across the pond. And since we’ve all lost socks “in the dryer”, I think we can agree that there are in fact Borrowers among us.
The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner – This was one of my favorite series, along with Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. The idea of living in a box car really struck my imagination, although now I have to wonder how my allergies would have reacted to sleeping in hay. Not well, my friends. Not well. Plus, I prefer not to be poked in the eye when I roll over. Fortunately I wasn’t quite so literal as a child.
Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. – I think our family read this book so often the paperback fell apart. If you’ve been unfortunate enough to see the awful Steve Martin film adaptation, you have NO idea what this book is actually about.  Check out the original for a charming story about a VERY large family. I always felt for the poor woman who visited the mother to talk about the importance of birth control, only to learn that the mother had 12 kids.
Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry G Allard, James Marshall (Illustrator) – The sweet Miss Nelson just doesn’t have what it takes to be a teacher, so she mysteriously ‘disappears’ and Miss Viola Swamp shows up to teach the kids some manners. Sometimes while teaching my college students I think that I might just invite Miss Viola Swamp to my classroom. It would probably work as well on so-called adults as it does on kids, right?
Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar – the stories about this school (built one classroom on top of the other, thirty stories high) are a hoot. Lots of craziness kids love here.
Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little by E.B. White – Classics worth reading time and again. I always felt badly about poor Charlotte, but that sure is Some Pig. Unfortunately for Wilbur, I’ve always been a fan of bacon.
These are a few of my favorites – any suggestions you’d like to add?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Review of Joan Kilby's Gentlemen Prefer Nerds

Title: Gentlemen Prefer Nerds
Author: Joan Kilby
Publisher: Carina Press
Format: eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: March 12, 2012
Rating: 3 out of 5

I’m a big fan of nerds, so when I saw the title to Joan Kilby’s book, I immediately snatched it up. Gentlemen Prefer Nerds features a mild, unassuming woman who becomes entangled in a jewelry heist, thanks to a sexy secret agent.  I’m more than a little nerdy myself, so I was rooting for the gemologist heroine, Maddie, to get her man while living the high life of the spy in Australia. While Gentlemen Prefer Nerds is a fun romp, the romance fell a bit flat, but the hijinks poor Maddie finds herself in make for more than a few laughs, and I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series.
Maddie Maloney is a gemologist working for her aunt’s jewelry store while finishing her PhD. Her aunt is auctioning off the famous Rose Diamond, and Maddie is conducting research on the unusual pink diamond before the auction takes place. While Maddie’s at the store studying the gem, a man mysteriously approaches her and warns Maddie that a notorious jewel thief, the Chameleon, has plans to steal the Rose Diamond.
Maddie discounts the strange man’s warnings, and when the Rose Diamond is stolen right from under her nose, the police believe that she orchestrated the heist! Fabian Montgomery, snooty British Lord, is the man who warned Maddie, and he comes to her rescue, only to inform her that he expects her help in retrieving the gem. Maddie has to be transformed into a femme fatale and attract the attention of the Chameleon so they can recover the gem. Unfortunately, Maddie considers herself all too ordinary, is the world’s worst liar, and is fighting an attraction to Fabian. Can she step out of her ordinary life and return the Rose Diamond to its proper owner?
Maddie is an adorable heroine, clumsy and very much your girl-next-door. At times I really liked her, but other times she came across as so naïve as to be TSTL. She’s a highly intelligent woman seeking an advanced degree, yet some of her actions seem ridiculously dumb. Why on Earth would she allow her date to view the Rose Diamond while the store is closed? It just seems like asking for trouble! Granted, the date in question was posing as someone more trustworthy, but in this situation Maddie’s common sense seems to be lacking, and unfortunately that was the case throughout the book.
Despite her somewhat questionable actions, I found Maddie to be likeable, and I could easily see why Fabian (an unfortunate choice of name, IMO) would fall for her, but I couldn’t really understand the attraction on Maddie’s part for him. She’s charming and sweet natured; Fabian’s just good-looking and snooty. They don’t really have any moments where Fabian confides in her, and Fabian persists in hiding the truth about the Chameleon while insulting her appearance and attire. I just never really understood why she would feel anything more than lust for him.
That said, this was a fun book to read, and Maddie’s family was a hoot, while the Australian setting was a nice surprise. The action was non-stop and over the top, and watching poor Maddie try to fit into a world of high intrigue made for a lot of laughs. The romance might have been a little flat, but the ending hinted at the possibility of more Maddie and Fabian in the future, and I’m intrigued enough to check out the second book in the series.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Review of Cindy Spencer Pape's Motor City Mage

Title: Motor City Mage (Urban Arcana #4)
Author: Cindy Spencer Pape
Publisher: Carina Press
Format: eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: March 12, 2012
Rating: 4 out of 5

My introduction to Cindy Spencer Pape’s Urban Arcana series was through the third book in the series, Motor City Wolf, and I liked the book so much that I immediately bought the first two in the series. I’ve really enjoyed these paranormal romances set in Detroit, and I wish these books were available in print, because I suspect fans of paranormal romance would love this series. Motor City Mage is the fourth book in the series and has a road trip feel to it that’s not present in the other books, but it’s a lot of fun nonetheless.
The titular mage of the book is Desmond Sutton, member of the Wyndewin League, an organization of witches and mages that police various elements of the supernatural world. The League isn’t particularly friendly to the other supernatural races, which has Desmond in a tight spot, since his sister is marrying a Fae lord. In prior books, Desmond has found himself reluctantly aiding the other supernatural groups in their fight against a demon-influenced designer drug, and he continues that fight in this book, even in the face of criticism from his employers.
Lana Novak is a sexy werewolf who’s fighting her attraction to Desmond, especially since he’s made it clear in the past that he’s not particularly friendly with werewolves. But when she runs into Desmond on her college campus and reminds him to attend a family dinner for his sister’s sake, their attraction flares. Lana offers to help him acquire samples of the drugs, but when they try to banish the demons responsible for the drug to another dimension, their plan backfires, and they find themselves traveling through various dimensions to get home.
At times this book felt a bit like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, because for most of the book Des and Lana are busy traveling to new dimensions and meeting new creatures. This is a departure from the other books in the series, which have been mostly set in Detroit with a few short excursions to Faerie. All Desmond and Lana’s adventures in other dimensions bring them a lot closer, and some of the creatures they meet are hilarious (ele-cows, anyone?). I liked the different settings, because the focus was mainly on Desmond and Lana’s growing relationship, but I did miss the interaction with the other characters from the series. We get to see the others at the very beginning and at the end in the big fight scene, though, so that makes up for it a bit.
Desmond and Lana’s chemistry is off the charts, and I liked both the hero and heroine, especially Lana. She’s strong and kick-butt and so sexy Desmond can’t think straight, which is pretty darn funny. She manages to surprise Desmond time and again, first with her advanced degree, then with her ability to think on her feet while they’re traveling.
In the earlier books Desmond had a strong prejudice against both the Fae and werewolves, and I wish that this had been dealt with more in this book, since he’s the hero. I really wanted to know why he was so antagonistic towards werewolves, because that would have added a bit more tension to his decision to have a relationship with Lana. In a prior book he does mention his past issues with the wolves, but it really didn’t come up here, and while new readers probably won’t notice, I’m sure returning fans of the series will.
I did feel that the epilogue was a bit superfluous. At the end of the book, Desmond has to face down the Wyndewin League, and I felt that scene wrapped up the series quite nicely. The subsequent epilogue (without going into too many spoilers) brings back all the former characters and ties up any loose ends, but I’m not really sure it was all that necessary.
The Urban Arcana series is a lot of fun and highly recommended for paranormal romance fans. I’m a bit sad to see it end, and I would love to see Ms. Pape write a spin-off series about the demons in which we’ll see some familiar faces!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Review of Maya Banks's Tempted by Her Innocent Kiss

Title: Tempted by Her Innocent Kiss (Pregnancy & Passion #3)
Author: Maya Banks
Publisher: Harlequin
Format: Mass Market Paperback & eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: March 6, 2012
Rating: 3 out of 5

I am a big fan of Maya Banks. She’s an extremely versatile and prolific writer who publishes romance in numerous genres, including historical, romantic suspense, category, erotic, and contemporary romance. I’ve read most but not all of her books, and I’m always amazed that she’s able to write so many different stories that manage to draw the reader in so well. I particularly like her category romances, because she’s very adept at taking familiar tropes and making them fresh and new. I loved the first two books in her Pregnancy & Passion series for Harlequin’s Silhouette Desire line, so I was thrilled to see the third book available for review on NetGalley. Unfortunately, the hero and heroine just didn’t work for me this time, but the book is still better than many category romances I’ve read recently, so if you’re a fan of marriage of convenience stories, this might be a book you would enjoy.
Devon Carter is a successful businessman who works with his three closest friends constructing and managing resorts. When he’s approached by the owner of a large, family-owned company about merging their companies, the owner of the company suggests that they make marriage to his daughter, Ashley, a secret condition of the deal. Devon objects to keeping the conditions secret, but once he meets bubbly, beautiful Ashley, he has no other objections and agrees to pursue and marry her.
Ashley is bowled over by the sophisticated Devon, and she falls head over heels in love with him. She’s a successful businesswoman of 23, but her family is highly protective of the charming, effervescent young woman. When she discovers on their honeymoon that her father arranged her marriage to Devon as part of a business deal, she’s devastated but quickly determines to work to save her marriage. But the cost of being who Devon wants her to be is too high, and we’re left wondering if he’ll learn to appreciate the treasure he’s got before she slips away.
The main problem I had with Tempted by Her Innocent Kiss is Ashley. Frankly, I found her really annoying. Everyone loves Ashley, because she’s so charming and bubbly, but she’s also impetuous and flighty, traits that Devon points out to her early on (and isn’t THAT a charming habit you’d want in your husband). I was a little disturbed that she was so eager to change who she was in order to save her marriage, especially after her husband and father had deceived her. She does wise up later in the book and decide that she’s had enough, but I just didn’t understand why a successful businesswoman (and really, how successful could she be at 23?) would be willing to change her personality for someone else. However, I COULD find it believable that a 23 year old would do so, and that someone so sheltered would react as she did, which is why I didn’t completely discount her character.
I never could get a grasp on who Devon was, though. Frankly, he comes off as a bit of a jerk, especially since he criticizes the parts of Ashley’s personality that everyone seems to like the most. It left me wondering if he really did love her or only married her because of the merger. At one point we’re told that his family life growing up was bad and that he had to work his way to where he is now, but that was the extent of the background information about him.
There were sparks between Ashley and Devon, but because of the difference in their personalities – he’s straight-laced, she’s a free spirit – I kept wondering how successful their marriage would be. The resolution attempts to address this somewhat, but I felt it was a little too late to save the rest of the book.
Overall the book is well written, flows well, and definitely draws you in as a reader. I suspect that my annoyance with Ashley’s being so bubbly and perky says more about my personality (I’m cranky and hate perky people?) than it does about the book. As I stated earlier, if you like category romances that feature a marriage of convenience, I think you would enjoy Tempted by Her Innocent Kiss, because the focus of the book is how Ashley works to create a successful marriage. Unfortunately Devon doesn’t participate in the process until too late in the book for my taste.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Review of Brenda Williamson's Under Her Brass Corset

Title: Under Her Brass Corset
Author: Brenda Williamson
Publisher: Carina Press
Format: eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: February 27, 2012
Rating: 2.75 out of 5

The title and cover of this novel are a bit misleading. Under Her Brass Corset appears at first glance to be a steampunk novel, but in fact it is more fantasy, with a few steampunk elements. While I found the premise of the novel interesting - an immortal captain falls for the young woman he’s been watching over since childhood - I found the book to be a bit disjointed. The book isn’t badly written; it just isn’t well written either, so I have a hard time recommending it.

Set in what seems to be Victorian England but is never really identified as such, the novel begins with Abigail Thatch making her way home alone, attempting to avoid any dangerous encounters. She meets Captain Jasper Blackthorn in what appears to be a fortuitous meeting, and there’s an instant chemistry between them. Abigail informs her new friend that her father was recently murdered during an attempted burglary, and she is unable to make the mortgage payments on the house, which will soon lead to foreclosure on her family home.

But after another burglary attempt is made, Captain Jasper Blackthorn discovers the object the thief was looking for - a globe that can point out the location of an elixir that grants immortality. The Captain is an immortal and has looked out for Abigail and her family for generations, and he realizes that this compass, long believed lost, can only attract more danger to the vulnerable Abigail. He steals the compass, little realizing that Abigail would follow him to his steam powered ship and climb aboard, insisting on joining him in his adventures. But the honorable captain finds this spirited young woman irresistible. Can he convince the skeptical Abigail of both his love and his immortality?

This novel started out with a great deal of promise. Abigail comes across as very brave in the face of daunting circumstances, namely her father’s death and the imminent foreclosure on her home. She’s very attracted to Jasper, and he is mysterious yet sympathetic. I was a bit surprised, however, by how quickly Abigail jumps into bed with Jasper. I just never felt very invested in the hero and heroine, and their romance, while steamy, didn’t draw me in. Jasper is supposed to be much, much older, yet he acts as though he’s only a few years older than Abigail. When I looked back over my notes about the book, the beginning of their physical relationship seems to be the point where the book goes downhill for me.

Once Abigail and Jasper are on his flying ship (one of the few steampunk elements in the novel), their physical relationship goes into high gear, despite Abigail’s refusal to believe Jasper’s assertions that he is immortal and that she’s related to the infamous pirate Blackbeard, who Jasper claims is also immortal. The action also picks up at this point. We learn about the elixir and its Avalon connection, and all that entails. I was surprised by what felt like a sudden shift in genre from steampunk to fantasy. I don’t particularly mind when an author mixes genres, but it felt awkward in this novel, since the book began in one genre then switched to another with little transition.

This wasn’t badly written, but it wasn’t as engaging as I had hoped. I would feel badly if a friend spent her money on this book, so I can’t really recommend it.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Review of Marie Force's Fatal Flaw

Title: Fatal Flaw (Fatal #4)
Author: Marie Force
Publisher: Carina Press
Format: eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: February 6, 2012
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

If you’ve read many of my reviews, you’ll soon see that I’m not a big fan of romantic suspense. Frankly, I’m a wimp! But this past summer I read Marie Force’s wedding novella Fatal Destiny and liked it so much that when I saw Fatal Flaw was available on NetGalley, I instantly requested it. It then sat on my Kindle for months. And I mean MONTHS!!! I finally got around to reading it yesterday, and now I can’t believe I waited to read it this long. Even though I haven’t read any of the first 3 novels in the series, I could pick up this book and follow along without any problem. And since there are a lot of narrative threads in this book, I think it’s fairly impressive that I could dive right in.  
Fatal Flaw picks up right after Senator Nick Cappuano and D.C. Police Lieutenant Samantha “Sam” Holland return from their honeymoon. On Sam’s first day back to work, she’s opening some of the cards sent after the wedding and finds one with a thinly veiled threat. She then goes to Nick’s office and scoops up all of his cards (and there are nearly 1000 between the two of them!) to see if hers was the only threatening one.
Sam then gets called out to a puzzling murder scene. A restaurant owner and his teenage employee were locked into the deep freezer and asphyxiated, but the murdered left the deposit bag for the night sitting on the counter. As Sam and her team investigate, they learn that both the owner and the teenager had no enemies to speak of, and the investigation seems to stall. But soon Sam finds herself dealing with a handful of murders – all of victims with no apparent enemies. She has to uncover the truth before this budding serial killer turns his eyes towards more personal targets.
There is a lot to like about this book, but the protagonists and secondary characters are what sell it for me. Sam’s a very appealing heroine. She’s tough but comes across as a very real person, since she’s experienced infertility issues and has to deal with her father’s failing health. Nick is a very sexy hero who’s very much in love with the police lieutenant, which makes him all the more charming. The secondary characters come across as real people as well, since they have their flaws but still make for a tight-knit support group for Sam.
The book is easy to read, with lots of action interspersed with various views of the different dramas occurring in all the characters’ lives. This kept me interested, but it also felt a bit like a soap opera, and I kept wondering why so much time was spent on the secondary characters instead of Sam and Nick. About halfway through the book I found myself wondering when we’d get back to the murders, because it seemed like we were spending more time on individual relationships than the suspense part of the novel. Additionally, the resolution felt a bit deus ex machina – Sam’s dad has been in a medically induced coma and as soon as he comes out of it and hears the details of her cases, he puts all the threads together and WHAMMY he solves the case.
That said, I found the book really engrossing. I loved reading about the various characters and their relationships, and while I’m usually not a romantic suspense fan, I really liked this book. I think that if you like thrillers or more “suspense” this might not be the book for you, but if you enjoy character driven drama, I highly recommend Fatal Flaw. I’ll definitely be catching up on the first three books in the series!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Review of Christa McHugh's A Waltz at Midnight

Title: A Waltz at Midnight
Author: Christa McHugh
Publisher: Carina Press
Format: ebook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: February 27, 2012
Rating: 3 out of 5

I’ve always been a sucker for Cinderella stories, and the novella A Waltz at Midnight is no exception. This novella runs short, as it’s only about 21,000 words long, and it reads really quickly, no doubt because of the epistolary format. In fact, it reads more like an extended short story than a novella. The narration is broken up by letters between the hero and heroine, and while I enjoyed the different format, I quickly found myself focusing primarily on the letters and skipping the narration. That said, A Waltz at Midnight is a sweet love story, and I look forward to reading more of Ms. McHugh’s work.
The novella is set in New York just after the Civil War ends. Susanna Parkwell is from South Carolina, but when the war ends, she and her wounded Confederate soldier brother find themselves penniless. They’re working at their Aunt’s boarding house in New York and keeping low profiles in the hopes that no one will realize that the brother served in the Confederate army. The boarders are for the most part spoiled young ladies attending school, but one of the ladies has befriended Samantha and asks for her help rejecting an unwanted suitor.
Theodore Blakely is being forced by his father to court Charlotte. He’d rather be an artist than work in his father’s firm, so he decides to send Charlotte a rude letter in the hope that she’ll reject him, releasing him from his family obligation. Unfortunately, Charlotte enlists Samantha’s help in responding to the letter, and Samantha’s reply intrigues Theodore. He and “Charlotte” exchange a series of letters, managing to fall in love. But when he writes that he plans to meet the woman he believes to be Charlotte at a ball, Samantha and Charlotte scramble to find a way to send Samantha to the ball.
This was a very sweet romance, and Samantha’s letters to Theodore demonstrate a great deal of intelligence and spirit. Because of the brevity of the novella, the majority of the text is taken up by the letters, and I felt that the narration suffered in places in comparison with the letters. The story is fairly tame in terms of sensuality – the hero and heroine exchange one kiss – so this is a story you could easily recommend to your grandmother. I would like to see more of Ms. McHugh’s work, because this was a very romantic story with a setting I don’t usually enjoy reading about, yet it totally worked for me.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Review of Shana Galen's The Rogue Pirate's Bride

Title: The Rogue Pirate’s Bride (The Sons of the Revolution #3)
Author: Shana Galen
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Format: Mass Market Paperback & eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: February 1, 2012
Rating: 4 out of 5

For some reason I’ve been in a historical romance reading slump lately. Actually, if you look at my last review, you’ll notice that I haven’t written any reviews in nearly 2 weeks, so I think it would be more accurate to say that I’ve been in a reading AND writing slump. I started Rogue Pirate’s Bride weeks ago, but just couldn’t get into it (for reasons I’ll go into below), but I finally went back to the book and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I’d read both the previous books in the trilogy and liked them both, but for some reason I wasn’t able to get into Ms. Galen’s last release, Lord and Lady Spy, which was a DNF for me. However, Rogue Pirate’s Bride was a lot of fun once I got into it, so I think I might try giving Lord and Lady Spy a second chance!

As Rogue Pirate’s Bride begins, Raeven Russell is in a tavern, dressed as a boy and looking for the infamous pirate Captain Cutlass. Raeven’s father is a British Admiral, and she’s grown up on his ships. Unfortunately for the pirate, he’s responsible for the death of Raeven’s fiance, and Raeven has sworn to avenge his death. When she confronts Captain Cutlass in the bar, he easily routs her in swordplay, but he doesn’t realize that she’s a woman until after the fight. He has her taken to his ship, where he’ll make her work as his cabin “girl.” Raeven manages to escape, however, and the two meet up again purely by chance 6 months later.

What Raeven doesn’t realize is that Captain Cutlass is no other than Sebastien Harcourt, Marquis de Valere. As a child the pirate was forced from his home during the French Revolution, and he believes all his family to have died. Since this is a trilogy about three brothers, we’re lucky enough to realize that Sebastien, or Bastein, is not the sole survivor and that he is a member of the aristocracy. Raeven attempts to avenge her fiance once more, only to find herself swept away on Bastien’s ship, as he has his own plans for revenge against another pirate. The couple set off sparks, and Raeven’s resistance to the pirate’s charms proves illusory at best, but there seems to be little chance for a future for the two of them.

For a historical romance to have any pretensions to accuracy, the heroine usually must be a young woman, and Raeven is only 19 at the beginning of the novel. At the beginning of the novel, she’s your typical spirited, impetuous heroine who’s so stubborn that she quickly verges into TSTL territory. I think this aspect of Raeven’s character is what initially turned me off from the book. She’s so insistent upon seeking revenge when it’s clear from the start that the pirate is more than a match for her. Her repeated attempts to board his ship started to get on my nerves, and when she finds herself stuck, I thought it was a case of just desserts.

However, Raeven’s character quickly redeems herself, and I really liked her once she spent an extended period on board Bastien’s ship. She’s an intelligent young woman used to getting her own way, but when she stopped acting like an idiot, she was very well suited to the hero.
Bastien is clearly a man of honor, as he doesn’t force himself on Raeven (no old skool bodice ripper here!). He’s also less of a stickler than one might expect of an aristocrat of the period, because he proves willing to listen to Raeven’s excellent advice, and he isn’t put off by her wearing unusual attire. The sparks between the two fly, as it’s clearly a “I hate him! I love him!” type romance.

I’m glad I gave the book a second try, because Ms. Galen managed to work out an intriguing ending to a sticky problem - how can an Admiral’s daughter marry a pirate? It made for fun reading, and I think one can make the case that Raeven’s character matures over the 6 months between the first and second meeting she has with Bastien, which is highly believable and made her a more interesting character.  On a side note, I like that on the cover she's the one holding the sword, although I'm sure Freud would have a field day with that (it's a really LONG sword, lol!).