Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Wait, it’s 2012? When did this happen?

I always wait until after the New Year to buy my calendars, because I’m super cheap and you can get them 50% off, but this year I received several calendars for Christmas, one with beagles on it and the other with photos of Gaudí architecture in Barcelona. I also have a calendar I made for my husband with photos of Her Royal Highness the Beagle on it. And yet, with all of these calendars, I still only realized today that, hey, January is ALMOST OVER! You think I’d be better able to keep track of time, since school’s been in session for several weeks already, but nooooo.
So I’ve decided that I am in desperate need of another calendar, preferably one that smacks me upside the head and screams “PAY ATTENTION!” Fortunately, one of my favorite contemporary romance authors, Susan Mallery, has shared a fun and sexy 2012 calendar widget with her fans. And really, what says “PAY ATTENTION” better than a hot cowboy on your computer every day? Here’s the link to download the widget: http://foolsgoldca.susanmallery.com/cowboycalendar.html
She’s set this up in conjunction with her absolutely adorable and heartwarming Fool’s Gold series. I’ve read all the books and love them – really, you can’t go wrong with these contemporary romances. In 2011 I included Only Mine (#4) and Only His (#6) in lists of my favorite contemporaries of the year, but all of them are great. There are more Fool’s Gold books coming out this year, starting in May, but you can read the first book in her new Blackberry Island series, Barefoot Season, in March. I’ll post a review closer to the publication date.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Review of Nadia Lee's The Last Slayer

Title: The Last Slayer
Author: Nadia Lee
Publisher: Carina Press
Format: eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: December 26, 2011
Rating: 4 out of 5

Nadia Lee’s The Last Slayer is a fun novel in a new Urban Fantasy series that leans more towards the Fantasy side of UF. I had a hard time rating this book at first, because I really loved it, but I felt there were a few issues. That said, Ashera del Cid, the eponymous last slayer, is a likeable heroine with a mysterious past, and the world she inhabits will draw you in from the first page.

When the book begins, Ashera del Cid is a very homely demon hunter, killing succubi and incubi who attack humans in their dreams. Ashera was abandoned as a baby and was passed from foster home to foster home until she was rescued by Jack, her current boss and foster father. His daughter Valerie (who’s a real looker) is Ashera’s best friend, and from the beginning Ashera makes it clear that she’s the best demon hunter employed by Jack and has no regrets about not being as beautiful as Valerie.

Ashera’s life suddenly takes a turn for the worst on her birthday when she’s tricked by a succubus and “marked”, then attacked by wyrms. None of this makes sense to her, and when the dragonlord Ramiel appears and tells her that he’s sworn to protect her, she’s even more confused. Ramiel escorts Ashera to another dimension, and she has to learn to defend herself from other dragonlords while fighting a sizzling attraction to Ramiel as well.

There were so many things to love about this book. First, Ashera is a terrific new urban fantasy heroine, very kickass and extremely capable. She faces several formidable enemies, undergoes a dramatic transformation, and learns just enough about her past to drive a weaker woman nuts. Even though it’s mentioned early on in the novel that Ashera is ugly, I actually forgot until reminded later in the book, because I was so intrigued by her story.

Second, I absolutely loved the world building in The Last Slayer. It was creative and fascinating, and we learn just enough about the culture surrounding the dragons and the dragonlords that our interest is piqued without the information becoming overwhelming. My favorite has to be the little household wyrm, Toshi - very funny! I also like that we learn about this new world through Ashera’s experience. While this leaves us with a lot of questions at the end of the book, the story arc in this novel is resolved.  

My main quibble is with the character of Ramiel. The chemistry between the hero and heroine is smoldering, but I was never fully convinced of Ramiel’s interest in Ashera. The two spend some time together, but there are some serious trust issues between them, mainly because Ramiel seems determined not to tell Ashera things she needs to know. Also, part of her transformation leads to Ashera’s questioning Ramiel’s interest in her, with good reason.

Overall, this was a great first book in the series! I had a hard time putting it down, and that’s always a big plus. I definitely recommend this one, especially if you’re a fan of fantasy.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Catching Up On Series

I have to admit that I’ve never been a trendsetter. In fact, I’m usually waaaay behind the curve. I’m probably the last person to get any sort of gadget, and I never, ever recognize the music my students talk about in class. So it’s no surprise that I’m behind on some really popular series. Right now I’m playing catch-up on a few, and I thought I’d share some thoughts on my current favorites, which no doubt all of you have already read. Of course, once I’m finally caught up, I suspect I’ll learn that everyone else is reading some OTHER series, and I’m way behind. C’est la vie…
Meljean Brook’s Guardians series
A few years ago I clicked on an Amazon recommendation for Meljean Brook’s Guardians series, which begins with Demon Angel. For some bizarre reason, that book wasn’t available for the Kindle at the time, so I had to start reading with the second in the series, Demon Moon. I have to be honest, the Guardians’ world is so complex that, while I enjoyed the book, I didn’t really love it. It wasn’t until I checked out Demon Night (#3) from the library that I really got hooked. I just used up the last of my Christmas Amazon gift cards to finish out the series so I can finally read ALL the books.
If you haven’t read any of this series, I highly recommend you start with Demon Marked, book 7, because the heroine has amnesia and gradually learns about the Guardians who defend our world from Demons and Nosferatu, making it easy for you to pick up the series without getting lost. Also, Demon Angel (Guardians #1), just became available for the Kindle this past week, so you can start with book 1 if you’d like, but even the author suggests that you begin with book 3 or 7 because of the complexity of the world.

J.D. Robb’s In Death series
Nora Roberts’s futuristic police procedurals featuring Lt. Eve Dallas and hottie gazillionaire Roarke are frankly addictive. Since Ms. Roberts is a lean, mean writing machine, she churns the In Death books out at an amazing pace. Thankfully for my pocketbook, you don’t have to read these books in order, and I’ve been slowing catching up on this series thanks to all the markdowns at Barnes and Noble and Paperbackswap.com. That said, I recommend starting with the first book, Naked in Death, just so you can see how Dallas and Roarke met for the first time.

Kim Harrison’s The Hollows series
This Urban Fantasy series is outstanding. Witch and Bounty Hunter Rachel Morgan and her sidekicks Vampire Ivy and Pixy Jenks are a winning team, and the world they live in is complex. You’ll absolutely want to begin the series with book one, Dead Witch Walking, and read from there, because Rachel frequently finds herself having to make quick decisions that change her life, not always for the better. But no matter her choices, her relationships with her friends are what really sell these books for me.

Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books
A friend recommended these books to me, but I never got around to reading them until I saw that the first book, One for the Money, is coming out as a movie this Friday. And since Jason O’Mara is playing Joe Morelli, one of New Jersey bounty hunter Stephanie Plum’s love interests, well, let’s just say I’m DEFINITELY interested in seeing how this series turns out. These books never fail to crack me UP. Stephanie is fired from her job selling lingerie and decides to take up bounty hunting in order to pay the bills. Trust me when I say that much hilarity ensues. Very funny!

So what about you? Are there any great series that everyone else seems to have read, but you’re just now catching up on?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Review of Cheryl Crane's The Bad Always Die Twice

Title: The Bad Always Die Twice
Author: Cheryl Crane
Publisher: Kensington Books
Format: Hardcover and eBook
Source: Goodreads FirstReads Program
Publication Date: September 1, 2011
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

I won this book from Goodreads First Reads program, which was a nice surprise, because I probably wouldn't have purchased it for myself if I had seen it on the shelf in the bookstore. (Note to publisher - that cover is HORRIBLE!!) Cheryl Crane is the daughter of actress Lana Turner, and there are semi-autobiographical touches throughout the book, which add an air of verisimilitude. I believe this is Ms. Crane’s first novel, although she has published other non-fiction works in the past. While there are a few glitches that detracted from my enjoyment of the mystery, Nikki Harper was a likeable character with a strong voice, and I'll definitely be looking forward to reading the next Nikki Harper mystery.

Hollywood realtor Nikki Harper is the daughter of 50s bombshell Victoria Bordeaux and is celebrating the recent sale of the white elephant mansion of TV has been actor, Rex March. But only a few days later, Rex March’s body is discovered in the bed of Nikki’s best friend and business partner, Jessica Martin. What makes the discovery so bizarre is that Rex supposedly died 6 months earlier in a fiery plane crash. Nikki finds herself trying to clear Jessica’s name, and as the investigation progresses, we meet some of Hollywood’s quirkiest characters. But Nikki soon begins to wonder if trying to clear Jessica’s name has attracted the killer’s attention to this realtor turned P.I.

There are many things to like about this mystery. Ms. Crane's writing is smooth and easy to read, and Nikki Harper's character is very likeable and down to earth. I love the relationship she has with her 50s movie star mother, Victoria Bordeaux and all the glimpses of old Hollywood glamour. Victoria and Nikki come across as real people you would want to spend time with, and Nikki’s friends and family make up a zany but loveable supporting cast. Also, you'll really enjoy Nikki's voice, which I think promises well for Ms. Crane's future novels.

I would have rated this book a 4 if it were not for a few small complaints. The first is that Nikki's best friend, Jessica, is really obnoxious. When Jessica is accused of murdering a former client and lover, Nikki immediately steps up to investigate what's going on, but Jessica is so unlikeable that it was hard for me to understand why Nikki would be her friend, much less such a loyal friend that she's willing to snoop around to clear her friend's name.

The second complaint is that there are small hints of a romantic relationship for Nikki, but these never really materialize into anything. If the relationship is going to be important, I would like it to be a more central part of Nikki's life. If it's not, then I'm not sure the character even needs to be included, because his presence doesn't add much to the narrative arc.

All of that aside, this was a pleasant read with a well thought-out mystery. Nikki Harper was such a likeable character that I kept turning the pages, and the secondary characters that make up her support system (her mother and several friends) were delightful.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Review of Larissa Ione's Immortal Rider

Title: Immortal Rider (Lords of Deliverance #2)
Author: Larissa Ione
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Format: Mass Market Paperback & eBook
Source: NetGalley & Purchased
Publication Date: November 22, 2011
Rating: 4 out of 5

I’m a big fan of Larissa Ione’s paranormal romances, both her Demonica series and her current spin-off series, Lords of Deliverance. In November I was so excited to find a copy of Immortal Rider in the stores early that I bought a copy, forgetting that I had an e-ARC on my Kindle (oops). But I made the mistake of reading a few negative reviews before I read the book, and they put me off reading the book for a while. I just finished the book the other night, and now I really regret having read those reviews, because I absolutely loved the book! Ms. Ione does a great job of incorporating her usual sense of humor and sizzling romance in this book, while this book is a shade darker in tone than her previous books (not unexpectedly, given the subject matter of the coming apocalypse). That said, the one issue that bothered the other reviewers did bother me as well, which prevents me from giving this a full 5 out of 5. Even so, this is a great addition to the series.
If you’ve never read any of the Demonica or Lords of Deliverance books, I highly suggest you not begin with Immortal Rider, because the world building is complex. It’s very well done, and each of the novels includes a glossary at the beginning or end of the book, but I’m not a fan of having to turn back and look up terms when I’m reading. That said, you CAN start the Lords of Deliverance  series with the first book, Eternal Rider, since that’s the beginning of a new series and the set up is explained. I reviewed Eternal Rider last year here , and it was the first of Ms. Ione’s books I’d ever read. I was able to follow along without any difficulties, but I fear that would not be the case with Immortal Rider.
Each of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse carries a seal. If that seal is broken, the world finds itself one step closer to the Apocalypse and said Horseman transforms from kick-ass immortal into scary Apocalypse bringer. This happens to Reseph, who becomes Pestilence, in the last book of the Demonica series, setting up the action for the Lords of Deliverance. The three remaining Horsemen (Ares, Limos, and Thanatos) have managed to avoid breaking their seals thus far and are actively fighting Pestilence or searching for ways to restore their brother to his Reseph persona. Limos, who would be Famine if her seal were broken, is the only female of the group, and Immortal Rider is her book.
As the book begins, the three siblings are celebrating Ares’ marriage to Cara, when human ally Arik Wagner makes the mistake of planting a very passionate kiss on Limos. Big mistake, because Limos is Satan’s fiancée, and he is a very jealous demon. Demons appear and drag Arik to Sheoul (hell) to torture him. If he says Limos’s name just once, she’ll be whisked back to hell and forced to marry Satan, who no doubt always leaves the toilet seat up.
Limos, her brothers, and their allies search for Arik, who has stubbornly refused to say Limos’ name. Once he manages his escape from hell, Limos has to convince him that he’s no longer being tortured and find a way to prevent both her marriage to her fiancé and the breaking of her seal. All of this is complicated by Limos’s penchant for lying, Pestilence’s attempts to kill his siblings and bring about the Apocalypse, and the untimely disappearance of the Horsemen’s angelic watchers, Harvester and Reaver. Oh, and there’s also the sizzling chemistry between Limos and Arik. So there’s LOTS going on in this book.
Larissa Ione’s books always have tons of action, scorching sex scenes, and lots of humor, and Immortal Rider is no exception. Limos and Arik are perfect for each other, as both have damaged pasts and are kick ass fighters. The book is chock full of action, with the Horsemen and their allies fighting off demons and Pestilence while searching for Arik. The fast pace of the action kept me turning the pages, and the smoking hot sex scenes will have you fanning yourself. And some of the characters’ one liners will have you rolling in the aisles (“Taj Mahell” and “The Biblical Horseman’s Secret Aegis Baby” were my favorites).
My biggest problem with the book (and that of other reviewers as well) has to do with a scene between Thanatos and a human ally of the Horsemen, Regan. Regan has been sent to seduce Thanatos. Unfortunately, she deceives him into having full-on intercourse when he’d explicitly stated that he did not want to have intercourse. And let’s face it – that’s rape. A lot of other reviewers have been uncomfortable with this scene, as was I, but Ms. Ione doesn’t pull her punches. The scene and its aftermath are uncomfortable for the reader deliberately. You SHOULD be uncomfortable with the scene, and the characters reflect that.
Overall, I really enjoyed the book, and I feel that the positive outweighs the negative with this book. I’m definitely intrigued about the third book in the series, Lethal Rider, which is coming out in May 2012, and will deal with the aftermath of Thanatos and Regan’s encounter.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Review of Zoë Archer’s Chain Reaction

Title: Chain Reaction (8th Wing #2)
Author: Zoë Archer
Publisher: Carina Press
Format: eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: January 9, 2012
Rating: 4 out of 5

I admit it. I’m a sucker for nerdy heroes. Just look at my husband! Pretty darn nerdy! So when I saw that Zoë Archer’s latest book, Chain Reaction, featured a hero who forms part of “NerdWorks,” I knew this was going to be a winner. At approximately 43,000 words Chain Reaction is fairly short, but there is a lot to love in this book. I’ve read all of Ms. Archer’s paranormal historical novels in the Blades of the Rose series, and highly recommend them, but the 8th Wing series is firmly in the Sci-Fi camp, a departure from her earlier books.
In Chain Reaction, Lieutenant Celene “Stainless” Jur is the 8th Wing’s ace pilot. She flies the stealthy Black Wraith ships, and only a few months ago was captured and nearly sold when an enemy used a disrupter to immobilize her ship. The creator of the disrupter has finally been discovered, and Celene wants to be the one bringing him in.
Engineer Nils Calder is proud of his role in the 8th Wing’s “NerdWorks” (think GeekSquad in space), and he’s managed to find a way to locate the disrupter and lead them to its creator, a disgruntled former NerdWorks engineer. But Nils has had little field experience, and Celene doesn’t want anyone getting in her way on this mission. Unfortunately, her commanding officer insists that Nils is the best man for the job.
Nils has long had a crush on the stunning pilot, and when they’re forced to work on the recovery mission together, he decides to seize his chance and woo Celene, setting off sparks. In the past Celene has felt isolated as a woman among all the other pilots. Her reputation as a pilot is such that others speak of her with awe, and men are inevitably disappointed when they discover the real woman behind the legend. Nils seems to see past that to the real Celene, but can a hotshot pilot and a NerdWorks engineer find common ground when the mission ends?
This was a fast, action-packed read filled with steamy romance. I really enjoyed reading about a beta hero who trusts in his abilities and those of his female companion rather than trying to take over the entire mission. I was surprised that Nils and Celene didn’t set off any supernovas in space, their chemistry was so sizzling. It also helps that the “nerdy” Nils has a tone,d athletic bod and plenty of self-confidence.
Celene is an appealing character as well. It’s always fun to read about competent female characters who really don’t NEED someone to hold their hands but are looking for companionship. Celene is a believable mix of strength and vulnerability, and frankly I enjoyed her kick-ass status among the other pilots. My one criticism would be the choice of her nickname, “Stainless.” That had me cringing throughout the entire book. It just struck me as very awkward.
Chain Reaction is the second book in the 8th Wing series, and the hero and heroine from the first book, Collision Course, appear in the second book, but you can easily read Chain Reaction as a stand alone novel. That said, Collision Course is currently on sale for only $1.99 at Amazon, so catching up on the series won’t break the bank.
I do wish Chain Reaction were a bit longer, because I would have liked to see more of Nils and Celene together and learn more about their enemy, the Praxis. However, given the  length, I felt the romance was well developed. I definitely recommend this one if you’re interested in space opera or sci-fi romance.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Review of Stephanie Rowe's Hold Me If You Can

Title: Hold Me If You Can (Soulfire Series #3)
Author: Stephanie Rowe
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Format: Mass Market Paperback & eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: January 1, 2012
Rating: 3.75 out of 5

The other day I posted on Twitter that Stephanie Rowe’s Hold Me If You Can is crazy goofy but lots of fun. That pretty much says it all! This was one hilarious paranormal romance, full of all kinds of silliness. I happen to love that sort of book, but if you’re more into gritty urban fantasy or less humorous paranormal romance, this book is not for you.
I have to admit that I haven’t read any of Ms. Rowe’s books before, and when I started reading this book, I didn’t realize that this was the third book in a series. In some series, you can dive right in at any point in the series with few problems. This is not one of those series. In fact, I was seriously annoyed and frustrated at the very beginning, because I had NO idea what was going on. References were made to certain creatures and magical terms, and I was completely lost. However, the zaniness soon drew me in, and I was able to catch up fairly easily once I’d read a little further. By the time I’d finished the book I’d definitely changed my initial opinion. For that reason, I’d recommend that you begin the series with the first book, Kiss At Your Own Risk, rather than starting with this one. If you do decide to begin with Hold Me If You Can, you might want to read a synopsis of the other two books or a review of this one to catch up on some of the terminology. I think you’ll have a more pleasant reading experience that way.
The heroine, Natalie Fleming, is a sweet. She has magical powers and her blood attracts demons called deedubs. Natalie has just finished renovating her magical sweet shop, called Scrumptious, for an inspection by the Michelin-O (for otherworld) guide. Natalie makes chocolates that can help with sensual matters (ie – chocolate goodies that have a Viagra effect), but her magic seems to be failing her and her recent escape from death at the hands of a deedub has made her infamous, making her a target.
Nigel Aquarian is a warrior and healer who spent the last 150 years being tortured by Angelica, Satan’s grandmother, in a place called the Den of Womanly Pursuits. (Prepare for the zaniness!) In the Den, Angelica and her minions used beauty implements as weapons and torture devices (curling irons and bobby pins as weapons), to change warriors like Nigel into more sensitive men. Now that Nigel and the others have escaped Angelica’s clutches, they still eat sushi pizza and engage in more “sensitive” pursuits, even while they watch sports on their large screen tvs, which frankly had me busting a gut from laughter.
Nigel is drawn to Natalie and vows to protect her from the deedubs, but he and his fellow escapees are under attack by one of Angelica’s former minions. The two would-be lovers must find a way for Natalie to get back her former mojo so she can defend herself against the deedubs, while rescuing their friends from the Den of Womanly Pursuits.
The humor in this book is a big selling point. Ms. Rowe’s use of beauty implements as weapons is hysterically funny, and the lighthearted tone of the novel makes for easy reading. Nigel and Natalie are both afraid to let go and be themselves, but in the end they learn to accept who they are, granting them even more power. All of this is accomplished with lots of bad puns, and silly, over the top villains, but that just makes the book all that more fun to read.
My biggest criticism is that it’s very difficult to immerse yourself in the world without having read any of the earlier books. There were many times in the first 25% of the novel when I found myself lost at some of the terms (smut, Magicks, Mystics, deedubs?), which was discouraging. Fortunately, I kept reading and was able to follow along fairly easy once I was into the book, but I fear many new readers will give up before that point.
Also, if you’re not into silly, comic paranormal romance, you just won’t enjoy this book. I loved it and found the craziness to be a big selling point, but I know that not all readers would agree.
Overall, this was a lot of fun to read, and I’m planning on checking out the rest of the books in the series to catch up. Any author who considers beauty tools torture devices is a-okay in my book!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Review of Juliet Dark's The Demon Lover

Title: The Demon Lover (Fairwick Chronicles #1)
Author: Juliet Dark
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Format: Trade Paperback & eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: December 27, 2011
Rating: 4 out of 5

I have to preface this review with a bit of a disclaimer: this book is NOT a romance. When I requested the book for review, it was billed as a romance, but there’s no happy ever after or even a happy with a partner for the female protagonist. That said, it is an outstanding fantasy, well written and engaging, and it kept me turning the pages. I’m very much looking forward to reading future installments of the book, and I certainly recommend it. However, I’m concerned that if you begin this book expecting it to be a romance, you will be sadly disappointed, which would be a shame, as it’s really excellent.
I requested the book, because the heroine, Dr. Cailleach (Callie) McFay is a newly minted PhD and out on the job market. For those of you in the academic world, especially professors of English or languages, this book’s release date will have dire overtones for you, as December 27th used to be the beginning of the horror that is the annual MLA convention. For those of you lucky enough NOT to be academics, MLA is the Modern Language Association, and the annual convention is where the overwhelming majority of job interviews are held for college professors. It’s a NIGHTMARE. A NIGHTMARE, I tell you!
But I digress. I found it interesting that Callie has a long-term boyfriend, Paul, who is finishing his doctorate in economics on the West Coast, while she’s completed her degree and published her dissertation as a book on demon lovers, with great success. This has given Callie some cachet in academic circles, so when the book opens during a campus interview at Fairwick College in upstate New York, Callie is pretty certain that she’s going to turn down their offer if she can wrangle a better one from SUNY, since she and Paul would have a better chance finding work for both of them in New York City. This is an all too familiar refrain for academic couples, so I was highly sympathetic to Callie’s plight.
However, Callie finds herself intrigued by a Victorian house on the edge of the woods in Fairwick. It turns out that it was the home of Dahlia LaMotte, a writer of early 20th Century gothic bodice-rippers, and LaMotte’s papers remain in the attic. The owner of the house has access to those papers, which are never to leave the premises. Callie finds herself inexplicably drawn to the house and accepts Fairwick’s offer, a move that surprises her and her friends.
But at night, Callie begins to experience highly erotic dreams, in which she’s visited by a mysterious lover, and these dreams resemble those described in LaMotte’s papers. Add to this to the strange faculty at Fairwick (okay, cheap shot time - MOST professors at colleges are strange, but those at Fairwick push the boundary) and unusual occurrences in the neighboring woods, and Callie’s first year as an Assistant Professor starts to resemble a gothic novel.
The beginning of this novel really drew me in with its gothic overtones. Callie’s experiences as an orphan with an overbearing grandmother and the strange happenings at her house and the college evoke the gothic novels that Callie writes about in her book, novels that feature mysterious settings and repressed sexuality. However, this tone began to change about halfway through the book, and it becomes much more of a fantasy than a gothic novel.
At first the mystery in the novel centers around Callie and the sense of connection that she feels with her house in Fairwick. Her erotic dreams continue, causing her to feel unfaithful to her boyfriend Paul, even though they are only dreams. However, once Callie learns Fairwick’s secrets, the mystery becomes more troubling, as the students at the college are clearly being preyed upon.
The Demon Lover is an outstanding novel, and if you love fantasy, you will definitely enjoying reading it. Callie is an intriguing character, and you’ll be unable to put the book down as you learn more about her background, one of which not even she was aware. I think if you begin the book knowing that it’s not a romance, you won’t be disappointed at all, but if you’re looking for a new fantasy romance, this is not the book for you.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Review of Rachel Johns' One Perfect Night

Happy Friday the 13th, everyone! It has been a loooong week, since the semester just began, but I’m really looking forward to a great spring semester. I’ve got almost all repeat students in my classes, and they are simply delightful, so this is going to be a fun spring. Now that the craziness of writing syllabi and getting started with school is over, I’m hoping that I can crank out my reviews a little more regularly than over the holidays. Here’s hoping, right?

Title: One Perfect Night
Author: Rachel Johns
Publisher: Carina Press
Format: ebook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: December 19, 2011
Rating: 4 out of 5

This was a delightful short novel by an author I’d never read before. I’ve really enjoyed reading the Australian authors published by Carina Press, and Rachel Johns was no exception. In fact, I was a bit surprised that this book was published by Carina Press, rather than being published in print as a category romance by one of the Harlequin lines (Carina Press is owned by Harlequin). One Perfect Night has several of the hallmark tropes that you see in a category romance: boss-employee romance, hero devastated by wife’s death and refusing to love again, plus a traumatic event that spurs hero to realize his love for the heroine. And while the set-up and resolution of the romance in One Perfect Night sound somewhat clichéd, the unique setting and likeable characters make this a fun, light-hearted romance well worth reading.
Peppa Grant works for Lyrique Recordings, an audiobook company, and when the company’s family Christmas party is about to tank because the Santa has been delayed, Peppa steps in as the entertainer for the kids in a rented fairy costume. She’s a bit stressed, because she just sideswiped the boss’s very expensive sports car but hasn’t had time to tell him about it. Lyrique’s CEO, Cameron McCormac, is already in a bit of a foul mood, because he’s spending time around all the families at the party, forcing him to remember his frustrated plans to start a family four years ago. The widower is also dreading his family’s Christmas party after the work function, but the children’s entertainer in her short faerie skirt is exactly the distraction he needs.
When Peppa tells Cormac that she bumped his car and needs to exchange insurance information, he seizes the opportunity to have her pretend to be his date to his family’s party, not realizing that Peppa’s one of his employees. Her presence at the family party will prevent any pesky questions about his dating life and forestall any attempts to set him up with other women. Of course, Peppa’s a smashing success with his family, which creates more complications down the road, especially since Cormac’s determined to get Peppa in bed but only wants a fling. Peppa wants nothing more than to settle down and start a family. With two such disparate interests, can their affair ever turn into anything more?
The novel is only about 100 pages long, but it packs a lot into such a short book. Both the hero and the heroine have heartbreaking pasts, yet the book doesn’t get bogged down in all the angst, which is a relief. Peppa’s ex is a real stinker, yet she’s still hopeful for the future, even though she feels as though she’s been put through the ringer. She’s very likeable, and while you can see that an affair with Cormac can only lead to heartbreak in her future, you’ll be rooting for everything to work out between them.
Cormac, or “McSexy” as the women in the office call him, also has a painful past, which makes him a brooding, troubled hero – no doubt that adds to his appeal! His wife’s death 4 years ago still haunts him, but it’s a pleasure to see Peppa bringing fun back into his life. He manages to be a bit bone-headed a few times, but everything all works out for the best.
All in all, this was a fun debut novel with a lot of promise. I’m looking forward to reading more of Ms. Johns’ books, especially since the Australian setting plays such a prominent role in the book. I’d love to see her books in print, as I think One Perfect Night would make an excellent category romance.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Review of Connie Brockway’s The Other Guy’s Bride (Braxton #2)

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you all had a relaxing and fun holiday break! I’m busy gearing up for the Spring Semester here, which is always way more work than you think it’s going to be. In a few weeks we’ll be celebrating my one year blogoversary, which is exciting, since I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for almost a year now. Blogging has been a fun way to meet other romance readers and authors, and I’m looking forward to 2012.

I lucked out and won Connie Brockway’s Goodreads First Reads contest for a print copy of The Other Guy’s Bride, which I read over the holidays. I really enjoyed it, and I think it’s a delightful historical romance with an exotic location. Here’s my review:

Title: The Other Guy’s Bride (Braxton #2)
Author: Connie Brockway
Publisher: Montlake Romance (Amazon)
Format: Trade Paperback & ebook
Source: Goodreads’ First Reads Program
Publication Date: November 22, 2011
Rating: 4 out of 5

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, but I’d never read any of Ms. Brockway’s books before I won this copy of The Other Guy’s Bride through the Goodreads First Reads program. I’m guessing that means my romance reader membership card will be revoked or at the very least suspended, because she is quite the powerhouse! So I was really excited to read this book, first, because I’d heard so many good things about Ms. Brockway’s writing, and, second, because this is the first book released by Amazon’s new romance imprint, Montlake Romance. The ebook version of this book was released on November 22, but the print version is now available through Amazon as well. I’m curious to see how well the book will sell, since the print version won’t be available in warehouse stores, and I have no idea if it’ll be on the shelves at Barnes & Noble, either. If sales are not stellar, it certainly won’t reflect the quality of the book, because The Other Guy’s Bride is an engaging romp. In fact, my only criticism of the book has more to do with decisions made by the publisher than the actual book itself.
Our heroine, Ginesse Braxton, is determined to make a name for herself among her Egyptologist relatives and is making her way to Egypt to look for the lost city of Zerzura. She assumes the identity of mild-mannered Mildred Whimpelhall, whose fiancé is stationed out in the middle of nowhere, conveniently located close to where Ginesse believes Zerzura to be located. The hero, Jim Owens, is escorting Miss Whimpelhall to her fiancé, never realizing that the fiery, accident-prone Miss Whimpelhall is in fact the infamous Ginesse Braxton. Of course, Jim Owens is not exactly the rough and tough American cowboy he’s pretending to be either. As the two make their way to “Mildred’s” fiancé and the inevitable discovery, sparks fly between them.
This is a delightful romance, and I love the Egyptian setting! Ginesse reminds me of Elizabeth Peters’s Amelia Peabody in her love of all things Egyptian and stalwart refusal to accept being treated as less than capable merely because she’s a woman. And like Amelia Peabody, Ginesse attracts all sorts of disaster, seemingly without trying. Despite her penchant for catastrophe, Ginesse never approaches Too Stupid To Live territory; all of her escapades are undertaken after careful thought. Unfortunately, something always manages to go wrong, and you will wonder how she ever made it to the ripe old age of 21, since we learn that she’s found herself in similar circumstances on a regular basis since the age of 6.
Jim Owens is also a really appealing hero, trying with no success to fight his attraction to this irrepressible heroine. His past makes for intriguing possibilities for the future of the couple, and it’s easy to see that he’s the ideal hero for Ginesse, as he manages to save her life and avoid strangling her with his bare hands.
All of this adds up to a charming romance that’s a pleasure to read. My one complaint about the text has to do with the conclusion. Ginesse is supposedly so motivated to make her mark on Egyptology that she’s willing to pose as another woman, yet at the end she seems willing, if not eager, to accept a different role. I would have liked more explanation for this seemingly abrupt change.
However, this is a minor criticism, as I very much enjoyed the book and will certainly reread it. My biggest complaints have to do with the cover art and size of the printed book, both of which are decisions made by the publisher. I’m really not enamored of the cover, to put it mildly. The colors aren’t particularly striking and the female on the cover looks a little young. I do think the image appears better in the print version than the ebook, but either way I’m not a fan of the cover. Also, the print book is about the size of a trade paperback. I really think that the mass market paperback size would have been easier for the reader to handle and perhaps easier to distribute. The print version felt a little bit too “print on demand” for my taste, leaving me to wonder how many printed copies of the book will sell.
That said, I like that the book is available in print and electronic versions. I’m certainly going to be checking out Ms. Brockway’s backlist, as this book was enchanting.