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 na├»ve 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.