Monday, June 28, 2010

Crazy for Love by Victoria Dahl

I'm going to try an experiment.  I'm going to try and write a short review.  It's going to be hard but I think it's important to challenge oneself from time to time! :)

Why I read it:  I nabbed a copy of the bound galley from NetGalley and I've read (and enjoyed) Ms. Dahl's other books both historical and contemporary (I prefer her contemps BTW).

What it's about: (here's the blurb from the author's website) Chloe Turner thought she was going to marry the perfect man-until her fiancé's plane crashed. And then she got the really bad news: he'd tried to fake his own death to avoid marrying her. Now America's most famousbridezilla (a tag she most definitely does not deserve), Chloe escapes to a remote island to avoid the paparazzi. And right next door is a man who just might be the curefor Chloe's heartache....
A magnet for wild, complicated women, Max Sullivan is relieved to have finally found someone "normal." Chloe is his girl-next-door fantasy come to life, and best of all, she gets him. With her, he can be himself, a treasure-hunting millionaire who desperately wants out of his sexy but reckless job. But when Chloe's notoriety catches up with them, will their torrid romance make it to the mainland? 

What worked for me:The hero.  Max was adorable!  He was a totally beta guy hiding in alpha clothing.  His quirks and neuroses were funny and sweet and, not annoying - although they easily could have been.  I have seen a few reviews around the place for this book and of course, there's the blurb above and I figure that to say more might be giving away a spoiler so I won't.  But srsly?  Max is the bomb!
I liked also how Chloe saw through him, to the heart of him, fairly quickly and I liked how she didn't get offended, how she appreciated him.  I also liked how she didn't just blow off their respective issues - and Max agreed -  they took some time near the end of the book to sort themselves out - it definitely made the HEA believable.
I also liked how Chloe didn't agonise about her body image - she had a positive but realistic view of herself which was refreshing - here's she's putting on a wetsuit:
Her figure was fine, but it wouldn't stand up to close scrutiny when being squeezed into a Neoprene sausage casing.  All sorts of rolls and gatherings were bound to appear. 

What didn't (work for me): For much of the book, we knew that Chloe's best friend Jenn, was hiding something from her, but we didn't know what.  I think it was intended to add to the tension but I just found it kind of annoying.  A little annoyance though - nothing serious.  I don't like it IRL where someone hints and hints and doesn't spill and I don't like it in books either - a little teasing and tantalising is fine but I find myself reaching the "oh, just tell me already!" point fairly quickly.  YMMV.
There was a sweet secondary romance between Jenn and Max's brother Elliott.  Elliott had the makings of a pretty cute beta hero himself and I could have used a little more of him.

What else:Overall, this was a fun, enjoyable read - it's not meaty or angsty and it doesn't pretend to be.  It is what it is - light and humorous and funny.  And Max?  Too cute!

Grade: B

I did it!  A short review!  Ha!  *happy dance*

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Ruthless by Anne Stuart and a kind of mini review of Reckless also

Why I read it:   I was fortunate enough to pick this one up at NetGalley.  I've heard many great things about this author (I'd heard she's good at the dark and angsty and I love the dark and angsty!) and I wanted to give her a try.  Plus the blurb sounded just up my alley. I'm glad I picked it up and I'll be looking to read more from this wonderful author.

What it's about: (this is the blurb from the author's website) Few outsiders will ever witness the dark misdeeds of the Heavenly Host. And among this secret society, where exiled Georgian aristocrats gather to indulge their carnal desires, fewer still can match the insatiable appetite of their chief provocateur, the mysterious Viscount Rohan.
Pursuit of physical pleasure is both his preferred pastime and his most pressing urge, until he encounters the fascination of a woman who won’t be swayed. And while his dark seduction appalls the pure and impoverished Elinor Harriman, she finds herself intrigued…and secretly drawn to the man behind the desire.   (Doesn't it sound just delicious?)

What worked for me:  I've been lucky lately. I haven't read a dud book in a while (yay me!) and this one did not disappoint.  Overall, I would describe it as "delicious" and the hero, Viscount Rohan (even though he has the IMO unromantic first name of Francis) is the most delicious part of all.  He's wicked and bad and sinful and gorgeous and decadent and lovely.  
For all that Rohan strutted around thinking himself the Prince of Darkness, his battered soul contained a bruised nobility that would appall him. Rohan much preferred to fancy himself heartless.
But, more about him later.  
I do love a Georgian book (is it still called "Georgian" when the book is set in Paris for the most part?) - I love the powder and patches, the jewels and the high heeled shoes encrusted with diamonds, I love the rich velvets and brocades - and that's just on the men.  There is something so masculine about an alpha male wearing such clothes - they should look girly shouldn't they?  But they don't.  If their characters are painted right, they pull it off and its gorgeous.  Some of my favourite books are set in this period and it was nice to have a book set in Paris for a change too.
Elinor piques Rohan's interest from the beginning.  She's different to the women he normally comes across (ie she's not a whore - "Any woman in this house is a whore, my child.  So, for that matter, are the men.") and his not-so-latent sense of honour is inspired.  (I say not-so-latent because it was always evident to me that he was an honest, honourable man - he just wasn't "good".) Anyhoo, Elinor's mother is dying of syphillis and is about to gamble away the last of the family's money at a gathering of the Heavenly Host (a kind of Hellfire club) and Elinor follows her to get her home (hopefully before she loses everything).  Rohan is the leader of the Heavenly Host and sets the rules (for example, no children - "A foolish inconsistency"  but "not up for discussion" - see what I mean about honourable?) and presides in glorious malaise over the goings on.  When Elinor first meets Rohan he has a half naked woman (breasts exposed because he's just been given them some, er, oral attention)  reclining on his lap.  This initial picture fits him perfectly. He's a gorgeous, languid, bored, jaded, artistocrat and he doesn't care what anyone thinks of him.  
I loved reading his thoughts and words.  They showed him in all his flawed glory and they were my very favourite parts of the book.   This is not a book where the hero meets the heroine and his wicked sexual urges are immediately tamed by the power of her magic hoo-ha - he keeps Elinor around (he's interested in far more than her body and is not in a hurry to get to that) and bangs other women like usual - he just thinks about her when he's doing it.  It's different and it's him.  He's a very bad man. **sigh**
"The brandy is for me..." he said in his most amiable voice. The one he used before he destroyed someone.
I did like Elinor quite a bit. I liked her strength of character, her determination and her optimism. I enjoyed her love for her younger sister Lydia and I liked her self-awareness (even though she didn't think she was attractive) and I shared her loathing or rats, but for me, Rohan stole the show.  
There is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a sad secret in Elinor's past (I felt awful for her - her mother was a real bitch) and when Rohan finds out about it his reaction is both expected but untypical of him.  And ferocious.  (Rwoarr!) It reveals to us (what we really already knew) just how much he cares for Elinor and how lines he would not cross before for anyone, are not an issue when it comes to her, her honour and her safety. Most excellent hero material.
There was quite a bit of humour in the book too which was a nice foil to the dark and angsty. There's a part where Elinor's thoughts are rambling a bit that tickled me.
He seemed to roam the halls like a bat, waiting to pounce.  She had no idea whether bats actually pounced or not.  And Rohan wasn't  at all like a bat which were horribly ratlike and not to her preference at all.  Rohan was like some kind of cat. ...
And she was a mouse.  A mouse who snarled.  And had teeth. ...
What didn't (work for me): The trouble with having Rohan be such a deliciously decadent almost-but-not-quite-bad-guy hero is that as much as I enjoyed it, for there to be an HEA he obviously has to mend his wicked ways.  I thought the ending a bit trite and therefore a little disappointing.  His transformation from wicked man to faithful husband was a bit too quick and not entirely believable.  I mean, I wanted to believe it but I would have liked a little something (I can't even describe what - which is not helpful I know), but something extra to help me truly swallow his metamorphosis.  Although, I did like this:
"Like it or not I seem to have grown a heart.  I have absolutely no use for the damned thing but there it sits, demanding Elinor.  I can't live without her."
Maybe my problem was that he was so well drawn as this wicked sexy unrepentant man that him being "tamed" into being a faithful monogamous husband in some way diminished him?  Hmm. I don't know for sure, other than that I found the ending a little less satisfying than the rest of the book, which was otherwise excellent.

What else:This book is the first in a trilogy and is released on July 1.  I've read book 2 already and I can't wait to get my hands on book 3.  In fact, the covers are so pretty  that I've a feeling that I'll be buying them even though I got the first 2 free as bound galleys from NetGalley.  I feel a little guilty for not sharing some of my money with this author who gave me so much entertainment.  I know I will go back to this book again at some point to soak up some more of a beautiful wicked man who has become a favourite already.  
Reckless (book 2 - due out in August) is different and I wondered if I should wait a while before I read it and maybe I should have.  It is a different book, about Rohan and Elinor's son, Adrian and it is set in England in 1804.  Adrian isn't quite a wicked or delicious as Rohan - whereas most of my enjoyment of Ruthless came from Rohan, Reckless was enjoyable in an entirely different way and I 'shared' my love with both protagonists.  The dialogue between Charlotte and Adrian was delightful, sharp, biting and double edged.  I liked that it wasn't the same book with different leads and a different name.  I liked that it took place over a shorter time frame.  Also, because Adrian wasn't quite as wicked as Rohan had been, I didn't have any trouble with the the ending at all so it was a more consistent read for me in that respect.  (But I still liked Rohan better) There is a secondary romance in Reckless  that could have been a book in itself and I was a bit disapointed not to have more of it.  I was really interested in Evangelina and Simon's story.  Also, there were a couple of questions I had about how the family got back to England  and a new title that the original Rohan had picked up that didn't seem to be answered and which bothered me a little - because I'm like that.  I gave Reckless a B+. Really good, but not quite as good at Ruthless.   
I can see from the author's website that Breathless (book 3 - look for it in September) is about a daughter of the house of Rohan so I'm thinking that will be a bit different and an interesting read.  Can't wait.

Grade:  A-  (the minus is because the ending was a bit less delicious than the rest of the book.  But, it was a really great book. And Rohan was made of awesome.)

Also, apologies for my overuse of the word "delicious" in this review.  But really, that's the word I keep coming back to when I think of this book. Sorry.

Monday, June 7, 2010

His At Night by Sherry Thomas

Why I read it:  I've read Ms. Thomas' 3 previous releases and enjoyed them all.  Plus, I thought they kept getting better so I was excited to read this new story.  I read the excerpt on her website and I knew I was in for a treat.

What it's about:  (here's the blurb from the author's website)
Elissande Edgerton is a desperate woman, a virtual prisoner in the home of her tyrannical uncle. Only through marriage can she claim the freedom she craves. But how to catch the perfect man?
Lord Vere is used to baiting irresistible traps. As a secret agent for the government, he’s tracked down some of the most devious criminals in London, all the while maintaining his cover as one of Society’s most harmless—and idiotic—bachelors. But nothing can prepare him for the scandal of being ensnared by Elissande.
Forced into a marriage of convenience, Elissande and Vere are each about to discover they’re not the only one with a hidden agenda. With seduction their only weapon against each other—and a dark secret from the past endangering both their lives—can they learn to trust each other even as they surrender to a passion that won’t be denied?

What worked for me:  In short, just about everything.  I think this is my favourite kind of story.   Vere is a hero in the true sense of the word - he serves Justice (always written in the book with a capital J) and he solves crime and he doesn't get any accolades for it - and, whether he initially wants to or not, he rescues Elissande from a terrible situation (and Elissande's Aunt Rachel too).  I'm a sucker for a good rescue - it's my very favourite thing to read about.  I don't enjoy that a character is in trouble, but in a strange way, the direness of the situation is almost directly proportional to the amount of enjoyment I get when the rescue happens. In this book, there are some situational rescues along the way but really, the whole story is one big rescue story.  
He kissed her on the forehead.  "I'm sorry, my love.  We should not have come.  And you need never return here again."
He had been here, as he'd promised. And she had not been alone.
 Such simple words but in the context of the book... oh my... *fans self*.
Plus, because I'm uncomfortable with the idea of only the hero doing the rescuing, Elissande does a "Pretty Woman" and rescues Vere right back.  He is broken and damaged inside and she inspires him and encourages him to rise above. *sigh*   
I enjoyed the secondary romance between Freddie and Angelica too. It was brief and cute and sweet and it did serve as some light relief in a book which was filled with a terrible (and delicious) tension.  
I've read all the other books Ms. Thomas has written, I think I liked Private Arrangements (bk1) slightly better than Delicious (bk2) and I liked Not Quite a Husband (bk3) quite a bit more - but I'm talking like, B, B- and A- here - each of them had their own pleasures.  But, this one?  This is the best one yet.  I love it.  This author keeps getting better.  I liked that she tried something new and went with what I'm going to call a "linear"" storyline - she started at the beginning and told the story through to the end.  In her other books, there have been a series of flashbacks so we get to know the backstory slowly.  I have liked it but it was nice to see Ms. Thomas trying something different.  Not only that, but kicking ass in the process.   I devoured this book in just over a day.  As much as I tend to take my time reading the words Ms. Thomas writes and I did for this book too, I HAD to keep reading.  The tension was too much and I just had to know what happened. 
I read this in paper format and I had my trusty highlighter out many times so I could go back to passages that grabbed me for one reason or another.  I can't share them all (or I'd just have to reproduce most of the book) but I've picked out some of my favourites to illustrate the beauty this author creates.  She has such a lyrical way with words.  Like this:
She smiled again, a smile luminous enough to serve as God's own desk lamp.

I enjoyed the subtle humour of the book too.
She had been married four hours.
She'd describe her marriage thus far as hushed.
She'd also describe it as long.

and sometimes, hilariously, not subtle at all
"Yes," he [Vere] said.  "I am what you would call, well, not an heiress - I know that's a woman - but what is a man heiress?"
Vere makes such a delightful idiot.

What didn't (work for me):  Um, it ended?  I had to stop?  If I tried hard enough, I could probably come up with some little nitpicks but I'm on a high from the book at the moment and I just don't wanna.  No, it wasn't the perfect book (is that even possible?) but from an emotional point of view, it hit all the right spots for me.  I wasn't thrown out of the story, I totally connected with the characters, I cared about them and I was caught up in how they were going to get their HEA.  Why nitpick?  
Actually, on reflection, there was one little (tiny really) thing but I don't know how to mention it without giving away a significant spoiler. I just wanted to know how a certain character had known something about a certain other character - how's that for vague.  If you read the book, you'll probably understand.  Or not!

What else: It's not hard to pick out the theme in this book.  It's all about hiding and masks and acting and, ultimately, truth.  I'm sure it's not an accident that the hero's name is Vere - it comes from the root word meaning truly.  (I looked it up because I thought I might have a relationship to veritas which I know is Latin for truth.)  There's a delightful irony in Vere's name.  He lies all the time.  There are only a handful of people who know the truth about him and he doesn't socialise with them - they're his agent-for-the-crown colleagues.  Even his brother Freddie doesn't know the truth.  He hides and he acts and he dreams of his perfect woman.  His perfect woman who happens to have Elissande's smile but who doesn't know him either.  As much comfort as he draws from his ideal woman, she doesn't know him.  At heart, I think Vere doesn't think he's worth knowing.  
Elissande however, acts and wears a mask of smiles and gaiety out of fear of her Uncle.  He's a monster and his vileness is portrayed in small snatches - he doesn't take over the book at any point and his awfulness isn't gratuitous.  We know what we need to know and there is an air of palpable fear about Elissande and Aunt Rachel - the tension you feel in the best thrillers when you're scared when the cupboard is opened for fear of what's inside.  
Even the investigation in the book is about diamonds, both artificial and real. 

Vere recognises in Elissande a fellow actor - he sees her mask quite quickly,
Oh, she was good.  So very good.  Were he truly an idiot he would be thrilled.
but misunderstands her reason for wearing it.  Once he does, you'd think that, him being the hero and all, all the conflict is gone between them and it would just be the external threat to them that needs to be resolved.  Ha! Think again!  Vere has to face himself, his own fears and decide whether he wants to stay in the shadows with only a perfect dream for company or whether he wants to life a true life without a mask - taking the risk that life is not perfect.  Elissande tempts him but he's scared of living in the open.
He wanted milk and honey; nourishing, sweet, wholesome.  She was laudanum; potent, addictive, occasionally helpful in forgetting his troubles, but dangerous in large doses.
It is that struggle which makes Vere so extra delicious to me.  All the time he's doing the heroic rescue thing, he's broken inside.  He needs Elissande to show him what he's missing and he needs her to give him the courage to change.  He wants her to see him, truly, but is fearful of it also.  
"Open your eyes and look at me".
She did.  He withdrew and reentered her, slowly, slowly going deeper, deeper.  And when she thought he couldn't  come any farther into her, he did.
She gasped with the pleasure and depravity of it - his possession of her, while his eyes held hers.
"No pretending," he said softly. "do you see who is fucking you?"**
and a little later, her reply

"I never pretended it was anyone but you."

See, I told you she rescues him right back.  Vere sees in her, a woman who has come through some terrible times undaunted.  She's bent like a sapling in the wind so she didn't break.  She's strong and heroic and Vere admires her.    Theirs is not a relationship where she's just grateful.  They are both equals and that is what makes me believe in their HEA.  Oh, damn.  I wish I hadn't read it yet. Because then I'd be able to read it and experience it for the first time again. 

Grade:  A

**Even when reading this passage, the profanity is so sudden and unexpected that it made me sit up and open my eyes.  It was beautifully used to convey the self loathing Vere has; his  desire to be known and his fear; to push Elissande away while at the same time wanting her as close as it is possible to be.