Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ready & Willing by Cara McKenna

Why I read it: Cara McKenna writes very non-traditional romance - in fact, I gather it is only a gamble as to whether you'll get a (hopeful or actual) HFN.  For that reason, I've been fairly careful about which books of her's I read because I'm really in it for the HFN/HEA.  I've only read Willing Victim of hers before which ended on a hopeful note (her alter ego Meg Maguire writes romance with the requisite HEA). Plus, I picked this up for 60% off at Fictionwise recently, so really there was no risk!

What it's about: Wow, what an interesting short story.   It's told in first person from Abby's POV.  She's a single lady who has decided to have a child and isn't interested in a sperm bank.  She wants to conceive the "natural" way but without a relationship messing with things. So, she advertises in the Boston Globe and interviews potential candidates who (after medical tests including sperm motility) agree to have sex with her (for a fee) and then sign away any parental rights if she falls pregnant.  

What worked for me:  She chooses 2 men - Noah and Rob - she doesn't necessarily want to know the identity of the father.  It doesn't sound all that sexy does it?  But, it is.  I really liked the way Ms. McKenna juxtaposed the encounters with Rob and with Noah to illustrate the different emotional relationships (for want of a better phrase) each "couple" had.  With only a few words, she somehow painted very clear pictures of all three characters.  I liked Noah quite a bit and appreciated that while he was accommodating and he was not wimpy.  Even Rob wasn't entirely one dimensional. 

What didn't: There was one particular sex scene which I found a little improbable on a number of levels but it was pretty darn hot.

What else: As a whole, I found the story strangely romantic (considering the plot) with a hopeful and appropriate (if somewhat simplistic) ending.  Sexy and unusual and well worth my time. If you're after something short, different and hot, look no further.

Grade:  B+

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Bandicoot Cove series by Jess Dee, Vivian Arend & Lexxie Couper

My review of this series is over at the ARRA blog here if you'd like to go and see.
The covers are pretty but the series isn't one I expect to revisit.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Unclaimed by Courtney Milan

Why I read it:  I received an ARC from NetGalley and I've heard wonderful things about this author.  I had read the novella in this series and enjoyed it too.

What it's about:  (from Goodreads). Her only hope for survival…
Handsome, wealthy and respected, Sir Mark Turner is the most sought-after bachelor in all of London—and he's known far and wide for his irreproachable character. But behind his virtuous reputation lies a passionate nature he keeps carefully in check...until he meets the beautiful Jessica Farleigh, the woman he's waited for all his life.
Is to ruin the man she loves…
But Jessica is a courtesan, not the genteel lady Sir Mark believes. Desperate to be free of a life she despises, she seizes her chance when Mark's enemies make her an offer she can't refuse: seduce Mark and tarnish his good name, and a princely sum will be hers. Yet as she comes to know the man she's sworn to destroy, Jessica will be forced to choose between the future she needs…and the love she knows is impossible.

What worked for me: This book really was a delight to read.  It had beautiful, lyrical prose and some really apt and lovely analogies (for example, regarding lust and peddlars).  Sir Mark Turner is a genuinely good man.  He is not weak or priggish or boring, which could perhaps be suggested by the fact that he wrote "A Gentleman's Guide to Practical Chastity".  He frankly acknowledges his faults and is terribly pained by the adulation of the masses which do not.  He is a man who is tempted but chooses not to act on it - Jessica is his greatest temptation yet but he does not fall.  He is in control of himself.  Self control may not sound all that sexy but on Mark Turner, it is.  For Jessica, who has beena plaything for men for years, it is a novel experience indeed to be courted and listened to and treated as an equally important person. 
Stories which are all about lies and misunderstandings can frustrate me but enough information was revealed from time to time that I didn't feel that way here.  Also, Mark is not by any means, an idiot, so he sees through the obvious.  What I liked most about him is that he wanted to see the woman behind the mask - it was that which seduced him.  Not her looks or her body - sure, she was a beautiful woman, but there were other beautiful women who didn't call to him the way she did.  That right there is so romantic - the idea that a man can truly see us and love us above anyone.
As much as I liked Mark, I liked Jessica also.  She took responsibility for her own actions and didn't blame others for her predicament.  I liked that she argued with Mark about this and the point she made was very valid.  She either owns her mistakes and owns her life or she is just a pawn to be used or treasured depending on the whim of a man.    I also liked that Mark took steps that she would not feel unequal to him in future and he encouraged her to shine and to 'do better' (but not in a moral way, rather to be the best she could be).

What didn't: I thought the ending was a little abrupt and underdone, but then again the book was already over 400 pages, so maybe I'm just being greedy.  Generally, I do like more of the happy together than less though.
Of necessity, the sex scenes (which were very well done - the man pays attention!) were pretty much at the end of the book.    So, it did feel, just a little bit, like I was served up 2 or 3 large desserts all at once with only a small gap in between.  But really, is that a complaint?  After all, I love dessert!

What else: After I finished this, I immediately went and bought Unveiled (so I guess that tells you something) and I can hardly wait for Smite's book. 

Grade: B+

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Real Men Will by Victoria Dahl

Why I read it:  I got an ARC from NetGalley but I'm a fan of Ms. Dahl's books anyway, especially her contemporaries.

What it's about: (from Goodreads). It was meant to be a one-night stand. One night of passion. Scorching hot. Then Beth Cantrell and Eric Donovan were supposed to go their separate ways. That’s the only reason he lied about his name, telling her he was really his wild younger brother. Hiding his own identity as the conservative Donovan. The “good” one.
But passion has its own logic, and Eric finds he cannot forget the sable-haired beauty with whom he shared one night of passion. When Beth discovers that Eric has lied, however, she knows he cannot be trusted. Her mind tells her to forget the blue-eyed charmer. If only every fiber of her being did not burn to call him back.

What worked for me: Eric was a total stud muffin!  Who knew he had it in him?  Well, I did, because I read the novella first.  I really do think you need to read the novella first so that you can completely enjoy the book as the novella is about the one night stand.   
Seeing things from Eric's point of view does give one a new perspective on the sibling interaction and despite the fact that Eric was an asshat in Bad Boys Do, I felt a lot of sympathy for him in this book  I'm pretty sure that Ms. Dahl wanted Eric to come off as an ass in the earlier books just so she could redeem him here - it was a risk but she totally did it. 
Beth's backstory was heartbreaking and awful - I was so glad when she got her HEA with Eric - they're so good together.

What didn't: I got a little frustrated with the fights with Jamie and with Beth near the end.  They were  got out of control very quickly and I suspect my frustration was more to do with out how realistic (and somewhat irrational) they were - I don't like them in real life either! 
I wasn't sure what Beth was going to do careerwise.  It didn't feel telegraphed (perhaps this is what the author was going for) and in the end I was a bit surprised.  Eric's choice was more obvious and it fit but I would have liked a little more about Beth's process.
I thought the ending was just a little rushed. Overall, I would have liked just a little more of them happy together with no lies or misunderstandings, but then, I'm greedy that way.

What else:I didn't grade the novella as I felt that and this needed to be counted together.

Grade:  B/B+  I think Jamie's book was slightly more enjoyable but this one ran a very close second.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Until There was You by Kristan Higgins

Why I read it:    I got an ARC from NetGalley and, with the exception of her last book, My One and Only, I'm a fan of Kristan Higgins.

What it's about: (from Goodreads)  Posey Osterhagen can't complain. She owns a successful architectural salvaging company, she's surrounded by her lovable, if off-center, family and she has a boyfriend—sort of. Still, something's missing. Something tall, brooding and criminally good-looking…something like Liam Murphy.
When Posey was sixteen, the bad boy of Bellsford, New Hampshire, broke her heart. But now he's back, sending Posey's traitorous schoolgirl heart into overdrive once again. She should be giving him a wide berth, but it seems fate has other ideas….

What worked for me: This is the first book Kristan Higgins has written in the third person and for the first time ever, we get a fair portion of the book in hero's POV. I can't tell you how much I have wanted this in her books. I loved it. I can't stress this enough. Loved. It. She writes such good heroes it has always been my complaint that there wasn't enough of them. (Except for the last book where I didn't care for the hero much).

What didn't: As much as I loved the foray into third person and the hero's POV, there were things that didn't work so well for me in this book. In the middle of the romance, I was told not shown and I hadn't had enough to completely believe that love had developed.  It was the literary equivalent of the musical montage in the middle of a romcom. I needed a bit more showing.
The story about Liam's in laws was resolved too quickly and easily and the bit about Liam's OCD never reallly went anywhere.
I'm not sure that I bought that (Posey's brother) Henry and (his partner) Jon were happy and would remain that way because Henry seemed so distant and Jon was so... not - I wondered if they would make it. How (Posey's cousin) Gretchen got over her 'problem' - assuming she actually did - was never canvassed. Considering the business arrangement at the end, I'd have thought it needed to be mentioned.

What else: As usual there were some really funny bits which made me laugh (and occasionally, snort), especially with Liam being the big bad dad with daughter Nicole's would-be boyfriend Tanner. Did I mentioned I loved having Liam's POV? I did? Well, it's worth repeating.
I also liked that Emma, the wife who died was neither deified nor demonized. Hooray.
As for Posey, there were times she was just a bit too desperate and even though it was probably totally authentic, it still made me cringe. Also, she was way more forgiving of Gretchen than I would have been.
Overall, Posey was almost too nice. She didn't really grow or change through the story and she was just about everyone's favorite person, except for Gretchen and even then, they 'kissed and made up' by the end. It was just a little too saccharine.
I would also have liked some of how Liam got to his big declaration at the end - I felt that was missing. His experience with his first wife was that she withdrew from him and that he felt he was never good enough.  What made him think that wouldn't happen with Posey?  I mean, I don't think Posey would pull away, but what made Liam so sure?  That part was missing for me.  It sounds like I'm really picking but I'm only doing it because I was so invested in the characters.  It's because I liked Liam so much that I want to know more.
In the end, I enjoyed this book. Much more than the previous one but not quite as much as the one before that. I wanted to like it even more - I want to encourage Ms. Higgins to write the hero's POV because, boy howdy that was the best part of the book. Please please please Ms. Higgins, continue to write and continue to show us more of the hero.

Grade: B- (but I really wanted it to be a B).

Friday, October 7, 2011

Bad Boys Do by Victoria Dahl

Why I read it:  I got an ARC from NetGalley and I really enjoy Dahl's contemporaries in particular.
What it's about: Jamie Donovan is the "family screw-up" and he can't seem to break free from that label.  Each time he tries, he's knocked down but he's determined to give it one more go.  He has plans to turn Donovan Brothers Brewery into a brewpub - serving good food to complement the various beers instead of just the current pretzels and nuts on offer.  He's taking classes at the university to help him put the proposal together before he takes it to siblings and co-owners, Eric and Tessa.  Olivia Bishop is Jamie's instructor (but as she's 35 and he's 29 and the class is an ungraded community class, it's not the least bit icky) and there's instant chemistry between the two.  Olivia has been divorced for a year from one of the professors at the uni and feels dull and boring and she thinks Jamie can help her learn to have fun.  Turns out that Olivia actually is fun - it was her crappy ex-husband who had sucked all the fun out of her.  Jamie does help her though, by taking out for some adventures but also by liking her just as she is.    We also find out more about the Kendalls and in particular, what really happened the night Jamie took Monica Kendall home.  Let me just say - what a cow!

What worked for me: I really loved Jamie and I liked Olivia quite a bit too, but, for me, this was Jamie's story all the way.  I found it quite compelling and I was a little bit heartbroken for Jamie in a few bits. Like most people are, Jamie is more than just one thing and he's far more than just a "screw-up".  I really enjoyed him standing up for himself, the smart changes he made to his life and the way he was with Olivia.   I devoured this one in a day and stayed up late to finish it.  
Also, there's hot tub sex. 

What didn't: I got tired of the fighting between Jamie and Eric.  I gather that by the end of the series, the siblings will largely have made their peace with each other, but I would have liked to have seen more of that in this one.  Really, Eric was a prize asshole in this book.  Because of that, I didn't totally buy his turn around at the end - it was just a little quick for my belief-meter.
Also,  I did think that Olivia's continued belief that her relationship with Jamie was just a no strings "arrangement" was held a bit long; clearly Jamie was really into her. 

What else: I'm actually thinking that the prequel novella helped me quite a bit - if not for it, I would have been totally turned off Eric on account of his asshat behaviour in this book.  However, as I got to know him just a little in the novella, I have enough sympathy for him to want him to get his HEA in Real Men Will (which I'm currently reading). Although, I am hoping that he stops with the asshattedness.  Also, without reading the novella, I wouldn't have got the Eric jokes, so that's a plus.

Overall:  A very good, sexy (oh boy howdy was it sexy!) story with depth and a good man in a kilt.  What's not to love?  

Grade:  B+

Sunday, October 2, 2011

September Reads

on Paper/eBook

Since the Surrender by Julie Anne Long - A - see my full review here.  It's my **pick of the month**

 I Kissed An Earl by Julie Anne Long - B-/C+  I liked this one in spite of it's flaws.  It's got swash and buckle and a lot of humour but the plot and the characters weren't as well put together as in earlier books.  So far, I've generally enjoyed the "Eversea" books more than the "Redmond" books in this series.  I liked Flint quite a bit the heroine, Violet, was occasionally very nearly TSTL (and I note via Goodreads that many others thought she was actually TSTL).  I liked the melancholy and the doomed lovers and, as mentioned before, the swashbuckling high seas adventure of it but I thought the ending involving Lyon was left dangling. It's my least favourite of the series so far.  Also, what of Fatima?  Since the Surrender is so much better.

Treachery in Death by JD Robb - A - watch for a full review at ARRA.  Suffice to say that this is an excellent instalment in the series.  Loved it.

Lucien's Gamble by Sylvia Day - DNF -  This was a Kindle freebie.  I got halfway through before the eye-rolling got too much for me.  I've loved some things this author has written, but this one didn't work for me.

Untraceable by Laura Griffin - C.  I've been reading wonderful things about this series and I wanted to give it a try.  Even though each book can be read stand alone, I'm the type who likes to read in order when I can so I went and bought the whole series.  It was okay but there were some timeline issues which confused me - one of the characters has a baby and so, logically, she would have either been heavily pregnant at the beginning of the book or just having given birth - in either case - ew!  I found it hard to follow the timeline - there weren't enough clues to tell me how much time had passed.  The heroine, Alex, seemed a lot less competent in actuality than we were told she was.  Even though this is the first Tracers book, Alex and Nathan had met in a previous book so I felt like I was missing something.  I didn't hate it and will try the other books but this one didn't set me on fire.

St. Nachos by ZA Maxfield - B This is the first in Maxfield's St. Nacho's series - I think there are 4 now.  I was tooling around on her website the other day reading excepts and got hooked and bought the first 2. Cooper is a drifter and musician who lands in St. Ignacio (called St. Nacho's by the locals) and finds himself stopping at Nacho's Bar, where he meets Shawn, a hot and deaf, busboy. When I think about it, there was plenty that wasn't in this book which I would have liked to be, like details about Shawn's life and Cooper's scars but I liked the mood and I liked Shawn's openhearted love and acceptance of Cooper so I graded on how I felt when I finished the book.  There was almost no conflict in the first half of the book, then the second half took kind of a right turn from where I was expecting it to go.  There were a lot of things about Cooper and Shawn which were left unexplored and I certainly had a lot less sympathy for  Jordan than the characters had (which might be a problem because he's the hero in book 2, Physical Therapy); also, I kept expecting the preacher to turn out to be extra creepy. but I liked it and I believed in the HEA in spite of the book's flaws.

The Sweetest Thing (Lucky Harbor #2) by Jill Shalvis - B Sweet, funny and sexy, this is the second instalment of the Lucky Harbor trilogy and features the eldest of the sisters, Tara, and Ford (who is smokin' by the way).  It lacked any real conflict to block the HEA for the characters but I liked Ford so much it was no hardship to read!  I thought the whole contact with adoptive parents thing was glossed over but the parts with the competition between Logan and Ford were fun and I enjoyed the Facebook poll with Twitter updates!

Instant Temptation (Wilder #3) by Jill Shalvis - B-This is TJ Wilder and Harley's story - for those of us who had read the earlier books, it was pretty obvious these two were going to get together - their URST was off the charts.  It was a mostly fun sexy story and it was good to see Harley and TJ finally get together but again there wasn't a huge amount of conflict.  There was a mild suspense subplot which didn't go anywhere which I thought was not needed.  It was an enjoyable read, but nothing earth shattering.

The Kowalksi Series (Exclusively Yours, Undeniably Yours and Yours to Keep) by Shannon Stacey - reviewed here  Overall, I'd give this series a B/B-

The Guy Next Door (anthology)

Ready Set Jett by Lori Foster - I read this a while ago and it obviously made a big impression on me - I noted "C - meh".

Just One Taste by Victoria Dahl (Donovan Brothers Brewery 0.5) - Ungraded  I decided to read Dahl's Donovan family series next because I'm in the mood for contemporary and I thought I'd start at the beginning - now that I have all 3 of the novels, I felt happy reading this story which doesn't actually have a HEA - it's more a prequel to the series. While it is the first chronologically in the series, the story between Beth and Eric hasn't been fully told.  I think I would have found this very dissatisfying if I had not had the other 3 books to read immediately after.  However, as I was warned and prepared, there was no harm done.  I plan to grade this story within the grade for Eric's book, Real Men Will.  It's ungraded here because I it's not complete and I can't give a grade til I finish the story!  I will say, that I liked what I read so far however.

I haven't read the Susan Donovan story (Gail's Gone Wild) yet.

Good Girls Don't (Donovan Brothers Brewery #1) by Victoria Dahl- B-  Hot (hot!) sex scenes and a good story but I'm not sure I entirely connected with the heroine, Tessa Donovan.  I quite liked Detective Luke Asher, the hero though!.     Tessa was only 14 when her parents were killed in a car accident and 24 year old Eric stepped in to care for her and Jamie (then 16).  Afraid of those she loves leaving, she goes to extraordinary lengths to try and relieve the constant friction between the two brothers, including increasingly difficult to manage lies. Tessa had her reason for all the lying but as the story went on, it got old very quickly and it was very unattractive. I will say that the lie (to Jamie) about her being a virgin was pretty funny though.   For much of the book, it seems that there is the story of the siblings and their Brewery and there's the story of her relationship with Luke and I wondered at one point why there was so very much focus on the former.  However, toward the end of the book, Ms. Dahl brings the threads together and it made sense.  I enjoyed the book, but I did find it hard to really connect with Tessa's character.
Also, in case you're wondering, the Brewery was named by Tessa's father -  for himself and his brother - so it's not sexist or anything.

Bad Boys Do (Donovans Brothers Brewery #2) by Victoria Dahl - B+  - I plan to post a full review next week.  It doesn't suffer from "middle book syndrome"!!


on Audio

Viscount Breckenridge to the Rescue by Stephanie Laurens, narrated by Matthew Brenher - D+  there will be an edited version of my rant in an upcoming AAR Speaking of Audiobooks column and then I will post the full review on Goodreads and, possibly on the blog too (depending on my motivation at the time! :D)

 Die for Me by Karen Rose, narrated by Tavia Gilbert - B+ This is another one I reviewed for AAR - much more successful however!  The review is contained in this column.

Scream for Me by Karen Rose, narrated by Tavia Gilbert - B.  After the enjoyment of Die for Me, I had a mini glom on Karen Rose and picked up this one.  I had read it before (as was the case with DfM) but enjoyed it very much on audio.  Tavia Gilbert is a very good narrator (she did Jeaniene Frost's Night Huntress series also).  The story isn't quite as strong, IMO as in DfM but it was nevertheless an enjoyable experience.

Kill for Me by Karen Rose, narrated by Tavia Gilbert - C- I've had the paperback on my TBR but hadn't got around to reading it and after the enjoyment of the previous 2 in this trilogy, I was keen to listen to this one and see how it ended.  Unfortunately, this was not so much of a success for me.  The hero in this book is Luke Papadopoulos.  He's from Georgia, with a Greek heritage.  It was hard enough to picture a dark Greek looking man with a Georgian accent but then Ms. Gilbert topped it off with one that was pretty high pitched.  I just couldn't get it to mesh with what I knew of this character.  Also, Susannah Vartanian - she's grown up in Georgia and then moved to New York when she was about 18 or 19 I think.  She has a midwest accent, with no trace of the drawl.  Alex Fallon on the other hand (the heroine in the previous book) had left Georgia when she was 16 and moved to Iowa and still had a strong Southern accent so again, that jarred for me a little (although to a lesser degree).    I could have got around all of that but then there was the story.    The evil villains were so evil they bordered on caricatures and just about all of them conveniently kept seekrit journals (a handy plot device but badly overused here).  Near the end, it was like those monster movies where the zombie won't die - you know, where everyone's breathing a sigh of relief and then the zombie gets up and attacks again?  Well, this book was kind of like that, except it happened more than once.   There was a bit of eye rolling.  Finally, Susannah is a victim of sexual abuse; she was raped by a gang of unknown men when she was 16 and then again (but by one man this time) when she was 23.  Still, after only a few days of knowing Luke, she's having a fairly healthy sexual relationship with him.  The book itself only covers about 2 weeks and it is the longest of the trilogy.  In terms of "page time" it was nearly 3/4 of the way through when they started getting busy but it was only a few days in "real time".  I didn't buy it.  Also, given that Luke spends a lot of his days looking (unwillingly) at kiddie porn (in order to catch the bad guys - he's in internet crime), it seemed a bit incongruous to me that he had "dark" sexual tastes.  Apparently Susannah does too, but their activities in the book were actually quite vanilla, so there were things which didn't add up for me.  I got the impression that the trilogy hadn't been completely planned at the beginning (I have no idea whether this is the case or not) and there were some continuity issues which were pretty obvious when listening back to back but which I probably would have missed if I had just read the books as they were released.

Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison, narrated by Sophie Eastlake - A. This is another I've reviewed for AAR.  My favourite audio for the month.  Great story and great narration.  I'm looking forward to listening to the next books in this series.
ETA - The column is up - you can find the review here

How to Flirt With A Naked Werewolf by Molly Harper, narrated by Amanda Ronconi - B-.   I like Amanda Ronconi's narration but I don't think this story is as strong as the Jane Jameson books.  There's also a little problem with the timeline - it's clear that there were aren't "out" in this book as they are in the JJ books, but all of the books sound like they are set "now".  However, there is a reference in this one to "Specialty Books" from JJ - to make it fit together, this story has to be set some years before the Jane Jameson books, before the were and vampires made their existence public.  The reference to Specialty Books could have been totally deleted and the story would have lost nothing and then I wouldn't have been confused.
The story actually started off a bit "women's fiction-y" for my tastes but I enjoyed it a lot better once Mo's romance with Cooper heated up.  Speaking of heat, I thought this one was a little more spicy than the JJ books, which I quite liked actually.  I'll be happy to listen to another werewolf book but Jane's books are the best so far.

New York To Dallas, by JD Robb, narrated by Susan Ericksen - B.  This is the first full length In Death story I have listened to on audio first - usually I read the paper version - but I decided to step out of my usual routine here. I found it to be another enjoyable installment in the series but it wasn't the best that I've read or listened to.  Isaac McQueen has escaped from prison.  Known as "the Collector" at the time of his arrest (by Rookie Officer Eve Dallas), he was responsible for the abduction, rape and torture of some 26 girls and the murder of an unknown number of women.   Isaac wants revenge on Eve and when he escapes he draws her to Dallas where he has nefarious plans.  Eve and Roarke go together to consult with the Dallas police and try and save his recent abductee.  While there, Eve has to further confront her past and makes a stunning discovery.  Roarke, for the first time, feels helpless and at a loss (these were my favourite bits - oh, the angst!).  I have come to realise that I enjoy the parts of the series where Roarke is emotionally tortured however, so I wonder what that says about me!!   Of necessity, this book lacked much of the usual secondary characters like Peabody, McNab, Mavis etc. and I did miss them a bit.  A very good book, but I'd rate Treachery in Death higher for story.  As always, very well narrated by the superb Susan Ericksen.