The Party Girl

Party Girl

I picked up Tamara Morgan’s The Party Girl after reading a little about it on Rosario’s blog.

Kendra Khuso isn’t looking for long-term. Her traditional Indian family believes it’s time she settled down with a parent-approved husband. Instead, she’s focused on building her business by day and then enjoying all the nightlife has to offer . . . until she meets Noah.

Noah Walker is happy with a solitary, sustainable life on a plot of land outside of town. He left a high-maintenance relationship behind him and he just wants to keep his head down and his hands busy, living off the grid and making no plans . . . until he falls for Kendra.

The attraction is mutual and their chemistry is electric. There’s just one problem: Noah’s best friend, Lincoln, is head-over-heels in love with Kendra even though she’s keeping him firmly in the friend zone. Noah refuses to break the bro code by pursuing a woman his best friend professes to love—but Kendra is determined to get her man, even if it means giving up the social scene for the simple life.

The main strength of the book is this: Morgan writes good chemistry. Kendra and Noah have a tangible attraction that practically leaps off the page. I loved reading them discuss their attraction and what to do about it in light of Lincoln’s feelings. The way this played out was ultimately very satisfying.

I was super intrigued by the idea of a hero that lived off grid. I was a little disappointed because of his reason why. I won’t go into details to avoid spoilers, but it’s basically in response to a previous relationship. *Sigh.* I realized I was judging the book based on the expectations I had going into it. Once I let those go and enjoyed the book for what it was, I liked it very much. The ending in particular was moving. The Party Girl: 4 out of 5.

Still, if anyone knows about any books where a character goes off grid (and not for some romantic suspensey reason), let me know.

TBR Challenge: Make Me Over

Make Me Over

Harlequin Temptation, how I miss you. These days I turn to the Harlequin Blaze line for a sexy, fun read, but I loved Temptation while it lasted. So one of the books from this line was a natural choice for the TBR challenge. This month’s TBR theme is the ugly duckling. Leslie Kelly’s Make Me Over doesn’t really qualify, but I figure the makeover theme is close enough.

Professor Drew Bennett is thrilled when he learns he’ll get the chance to promote his latest book, Beyond Eliza Doolittle, on national television . . . even if it means getting involved in reality TV. But still, how hard can it be? All he has to do is turn five country bumpkins into ladies. Too bad Drew doesn’t know that he’s the prize . . .

Tori Lyons only agreed to embarrass herself in front of a nationwide audience in order to fulfill a not-quite deathbed promise. But she’s going to be the first to leave–she’ll make sure of it. But that’s before she falls head over heels in love with the sexy professor. And realizes that if she plays the game right, Drew’s heart is the one thing she can’t possibly win. . . .

Make Me Over has a copyright date of 2004, and I’m pretty sure I’ve had it since then. Leslie Kelly is an author I’ve enjoyed before, so I figured it would be a good read. I was right.

I’ve said before that Kelly has a talent for creating vivid and interesting characters, and that’s true in this book. I found myself really liking Tori and rooting for her, despite her . . . shall we say, colorful language.

The plot itself was a bit predictable. You can probably guess it too just from the blurb on the back cover. I have to admit that I’m not too interested in reality TV, so I wasn’t all that interested in the twists and turns of the TV show. And the result of the show . . . well, I know it is supposed to be funny and cute and statement making, but I just found it corny.

So here’s the thing: I enjoyed the story when it focused on Tori and Drew. Not so much when the reality show took center stage. Because of the dramatic difference in my enjoyment level depending on which part of the book I was reading, I’m struggling on putting a rating on it, but I’d probably give it a 3.5 out of 5.

When the Lights Go Down

A new year, a new TBR challenge: here we go!

This month’s challenge is to read and review a category romance. I chose When the Lights Go Down by Heidi Betts. The copyright is 2005, and I’ve had it a while. Not sure why I picked it up; I suspect it was because of a positive review somewhere, because it doesn’t seem like the kind of book I’d pick up otherwise.

Today is Gwen Thomas’s 31st birthday. She’s given herself T-minus 24 hours to change her life.

8:00 a.m.: Call out sick from library.

8:01 a.m.: Scour phone book for Emergency Beauty Technicians.

10:00-Noon: Hair. Goodbye, mousy. Hello, auburn.

Noon-5:00 p.m.: Nails. Makeup. Clothes. Be bold!

10:00 p.m.: Arrive at The Hot Spot. Pretend you’ve gone clubbing before.

11:00 p.m.: Fight polyester lizard’s advances–and the disappointment of a failed mission.

11:30 p.m.: Revel in being rescued by Ethan banks. Don’t let the sexy club owner’s chivalry prevent mission completion.

When the lights go down: Lose virginity . . . finally.

When the Lights Go Down is a bit of a fairy tale. I’ve said it before—I don’t read romance expecting complete realism, but this book had a significant lack of it. The main problem is Gwen. She’s not easy to relate to from the beginning. It’s not that she has negative qualities like she’s judgmental or bitchy. It’s that her motivations are not well explained. She wants to lose her virginity because she’s turned 31. Really? There’s no buildup; it seems like she just woke up one morning and made the decision. OK . . .

Then, there’s the way she goes about it. She heads to a nightclub (owned by Ethan) and heads out with a creepy polyester-wearing guy. This does not speak well of her judgment. Luckily for her, Ethan intervenes. Gwen then goes home with him. The sizzling sex between them is the best part of the book and the thing that kept me reading.

Gwen falls for Ethan pretty quickly, but somehow decides that her life as a single librarian isn’t interesting enough to keep Ethan’s interest. So she refuses to let Ethan come to her home and see all her cat figurines (I’m not joking), and she tells him that she’s a fashion buyer.

Ethan is a little on the too-good-to-be-true side. He owns a nightclub, picks up women while there, but falls for Gwen. Plus he doesn’t really mind when he finds out that she’s been lying to him.

As you can see, I had some problems with the book, but it was a quick, light read as long as it’s not taken too seriously. When the Lights Go Down: 2.5 out of 5.

She Woke Up Married

She Woke Up Married

I decided to jump in and participate in December’s TBR challenge as a warm-up for next year. The challenge is to read and write about a contemporary romance. I chose Suzanne Macpherson’s She Woke Up Married. It has a 2005 copyright date, and I got it at a writing conference in 2005 or 2006, so it’s been in the TBR for a while.

Paris James has come to Las Vegas to take the sting off turning the dreaded “Three-O.” But one glass of bubbly leads to another—and when the redhead wakes up the next morning, she finds to her astonishment she’s in bed with . . . Elvis! The good news it’s the young, sexy Elvis. The bad news is there’s a diamond ring on her finger. Sometime during the evening, she actually married The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll! Well, what happened in Vegas better stay in Vegas, right?

But not if Turner Pruitt has anything to say about it. Because years before he put on his first pair of blue suede shoes, Turner knew the real Paris . . . She’s running away, as usual, but he knows her deepest secrets, and as much as she struggles against love, Paris is going to need him by her side as she faces her demons head-on. Because this time, Paris James has met her match.

It’s a staple of fiction for at least one of the main characters to undergo a transformation throughout the novel. However, it helps if that character is likeable to begin with, so that the reader wants to go along on the journey. That wasn’t true for Paris. She’s self-absorbed and moody, and those are just a few of her unattractive qualities. I had no idea why Turner was in love with her. He knew her from high school, and after their night of drunken passion, he decides he wants to stay married to her. Um . . . OK.

Turner has his own eccentricities. He is a reverend (which seems to consist mainly of counseling and marrying couples in a wedding chapel), an excellent singer, and his favorite musical is Mamma Mia. Yes, this book is a comedy, but I still found this to be a little weird.

Anyway, Paris turns up pregnant, so she leaves her life as a model in New York and goes to live with Turner in Vegas. Her plan is to have the child, put it up for adoption, and resume her modeling career. Turner, of course, has other plans.

Don’t get me wrong. She Woke Up Married was a quick read. But the humor simply wasn’t to my taste, and I thought the situation resolved far too predictably.

I’m pleased to have read one of my TBR books, but it wasn’t one of the better ones I’ve read. She Woke Up Married: 2 out of 5.

Holding Out for a Hero

Holding Out for a Hero

Why do I do this? I buy books I’m sure I will like, and then I let them sit on the TBR for months (or more). Such was the fate of HelenKay Dimon‘s Holding Out for a Hero. Wendy’s review made me think I should pick it up.

Deana Armstrong needs a hero—not for herself, but for the nephew all her money and time can’t seem to get out of jail. Unfortunately, the best hero in all the Hawaiian Islands is set on turning in his badge and getting his excellent butt into another line of work. If that wasn’t enough, Josh Windsor also has a big-time grudge against Deana herself. But if there’s anything being rich, smart, and stubborn has taught Deana, it’s never to settle for second best . . .

Josh has had it with saving people. He’s had it with getting hauled into court. And boy, has he ever had it with Deana. Or well, he hasn’t  had it. Yet. But the more she pops up sounding infuriating and looking good enough to eat, the more her hot bod and her cold case wriggle into his mind. And there’s only so much even a hero can resist . . .

Hmm, where to start? I could start with the cover, which is amazing. LOVE it. And I’m happy to stay the story inside is just as incredible. I tend to read romances for heroes, and Josh definitely doesn’t let me down. He’s both honorable and hot—what’s not to like? And Deana is a fully developed character in her own right.

Holding Out for a Hero is a fine example of Dimon’s trademark witty dialogue and sizzling romance, but it has a few other strong elements I want to mention.

First of all, I’ve read a handful of romances where the hero is hired to prove the innocence of a family member. In every one I can remember, the character’s innocence is clear.

In this book, though, Dimon does something I found fascinating: offers doubt. Maybe Deana’s nephew is innocent. Maybe he’s not. And this ambiguity adds a gripping element to the story. I could feel the part of my brain that enjoys true crime kicking in to try and put together the pieces. I can’t tell you how much I loved the combination of this mystery and the romance.

Another thing I enjoyed: the friendship between Josh and Kane. It felt genuine, like I was really seeing two male friends interact. Not the oddly feminine talk I sometimes see in books between guys.

In short, I loved this book: 4.5 out of 5. And I’ve got some catching up to do—I’ve got a few books and novellas in Dimon’s booklist I haven’t read. I won’t wait so long next time.

The Erotic Secrets of a French Maid

The Erotic Secrets of a French Maid

I’ve been in a reading slump lately. The result is that I read far fewer books than I used to, and I typically want to leave the ones I read behind. In other words, I don’t want think about them long enough to review them). So it’s been pretty silent at this blog of late.

However, I read a book yesterday that I felt like reviewing, so I figured I’d go with the feeling. The book is The Erotic Secrets of a French Maid by Lisa Cach.

After an unsuccessful search for her dream job in architecture, Emma Mayson becomes a maid for an incredibly handsome, wealthy entrepeneur. But Russell Carrick is also a total workaholic who has lost his zest for life–or has he just misplaced it? Setting aside her feather duster and her inhibitions, Emma rekindles her employer’s passion with a fantasy world of boundless pleasure. But then the unthinkable happens: She falls for him. Can she make Russell see her as more than a plaything?

I believe I got this book because of a review Wendy did. I couldn’t find it at her blog, though, so I could be wrong. Whoever recommended it, I’m grateful. It’s an enjoyable read.

The book title is a bit of a misnomer. Emma is not a French maid, although she affects an accent at one point in the story. Instead, we get a nice romance about a couple whose relationship starts with sex and develops into something more.

The way the sex starts is a bit contrived, but I found it a bit amusing as well with its wordplay that makes sense to each participant but leads to a complete misunderstanding.

What I enjoyed most about the story, though, is the combination of spicy sex with a story and characters I can care about. (Can you tell I’ve become a bit burned out on the genre lately?) I also appreciated the fact that neither Russ nor Mandy finds their sex entirely fulfilling until they drop the trappings and let their emotions become involved.

Some writers tend to write the same kinds of stories; others write a broad variety. Cach is the latter. The Erotic Secrets of a French Maid offers a good story, one I wanted to think (and write) about once I finished reading it. 4 out of 5.

Forbidden Fruit

Forbidden Fruit

It’s no secret that I’m jonesing for contemporary romance. So I was definitely intrigued by the description of Eden Bradley’s Forbidden Fruit.

For university professor Mia Rose Curry, it was all academic: her course in alternative sexuality was a safe, socially acceptable way for her to talk about the things she desired most—but had never let herself experience. And while students crammed into her class to learn about fetishes, bondage, voyeurism, and much more, Mia kept her own raging desires, and her most private fantasies, carefully under wraps . . . until one man dared to make her secret passions a brazen reality.

Jagger James is everything Mia wants, and everything taboo: he’s gorgeous, daring—and a student. Yet Mia can’t help imagining his hands, his lips, his skin . . . all the while drawing closer and closer to this forbidden fruit. She soon discovers how much Jagger wants her, demanding that she abandon every inhibition with him. Now they are about to take a dangerous step, tempting each other’s flesh, savoring every touch and breaking every rule—knowing that this dazzling, sensual feast is only a taste of something more to come . . .

OK, the hero’s name is a little over the top. But I’m a fan of the older woman/younger man story, so Forbidden Fruit already had that—and a lot of other things—going for it: 4.5 out of 5.

Mia’s a professor; Jagger’s a student. It helps if this type of scenario doesn’t bother you. But Bradley does a good job of exploring these characters as people who are aware of this conflict. It’s something they struggle with and come to care for each other despite it. In a nice variation, the age difference isn’t the source of the conflict.

Forbidden Fruit is set in San Francisco, a setting I appreciate more since my summer trip there. It was fun to see references to streets I remember. It added a nice connection to the reading experience.

Bradley’s writing is lush and evocative. If you’ve read any of her books, you know that she writes erotica. (In other words, expect the explicit.) But the beauty of Forbidden Fruit is the story—a contemporary romance worth savoring.

Dirty

Dirty 

I’ve heard a lot of buzz about Megan Hart but wavered about trying her books. After several months of seeing Dirty in the bookstore, I decided to give it a try. I’m immensely glad I did. Dirty: 5 out of 5.

I met him at the candy store. He turned and smiled at me and I was surprised enough to smile back. This was not a children’s candy store, mind you—this was the kind of place you went to buy expensive imported chocolate truffles for your boss’s wife because you felt guilty for having sex with him when you were both at a conference in Milwaukee. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

I’ve been hit on plenty of times, mostly by men with little finesse who thought what was between their legs made up for what they lacked between their ears. Sometimes I went home with them anyway, just because it felt good to want and be wanted, even if it was mostly fake.

The problem with wanting is that it’s like pouring water into a vase of stones. It fills you up before you know it, leaving no room for anything else. I don’t apologize for who I am or what I’ve done in—or out—of bed. I have my job, my house and my life, and for a long time I haven’t wanted anything else.

Until Dan. Until now.

Readers should be advised that this is erotica. Yes, there’s a romance here, but the sex is explicit. Don’t let this stop you from reading the book if it sounds interesting to you.

Based on some reviews I read, I wasn’t sure I’d like Elle. I did, though, very much. Yes, she’s flawed, but that’s what makes her so interesting to read about. She’s definitely a challenging character—and it’s easy to see that there is something under the surface that explains why she is wounded.

And Dan . . . oh wow. Dan. Again, not a perfect man, but he feels very real. I love how patient he is. And his declaration of love is one I’ll remember for years to come.

In fact, that’s what makes this book a keeper—I reread bits of it after I finished, and now, months after reading it, many parts of the story remain vivid in my mind.

If Dirty is any indication, Hart’s writing is sexy, emotional, and powerful. I’ll definitely read her other books.

Yule Be Mine

Yule Be Mine 

Every December I look for a few good Christmastime romances. When I was out shopping last weekend, I snatched up one I thought I would like: Jennifer LaBrecque’s Yule Be Mine. Harlequin Blaze, guilty-pleasure plot—what’s not to like?

He’s one big no-no. But all she wants to do is scream, “Yes, yes, yes!” This is going to be a Christmas to remember for journalist Giselle Randolph! Especially when she meets her new photographer. Because she’ll be working—in very close quarters—with the man she’s lusted after for years. Sexy Sam McKendrick . . . her former brother-in-law!

Sam’s been in love with Giselle from the first moment he met her. Too bad he was married to her sister at the time. But he’s not married now . . . and he’s going to make sure Giselle knows how he feels. With a little help from a native shaman, he tunes in to her fantasies . . . and makes it a point to fulfill every one! But perfectly taboo sex always has a price. And fantasies can take a guy only so far . . .

With a premise I love and an author I like, you’d think I’d love Yule Be Mine. It was nice enough to keep me reading, but it’s not one of LaBrecque’s best: 3.5 out of 5.

I like both Sam and Giselle, but I wasn’t as invested in their story as I wanted to be. I think this is because the sexual attraction is there from the first—and they are already halfway in love with each other as the main action begins. For me, this removed some of the story’s punch.

But I enjoyed reading about Giselle and Sam’s Christmastime activities in the town. And LaBrecque’s skill with love scenes is excellent.

In short, Yule Be Mine is a charming holiday read even if it’s not one I will reread often.

Wicked

Wicked

Some books are multi-course meals, each course providing nourishment and feeding the soul. Others are pure confection—the equivalent of a frothy dessert. Sasha White’s books are always meaty reads that both satisfy the palette and make you think. Such is the case with Wicked: 4 out of 5.

Bad Boy divorce attorney Karl Dawson has seen all the ways love can go wrong. That’s why he’s given up on it. Jaded and restless, he has playmates, not girlfriends. A leather-clad Dominant, he comes and goes as he pleases in the city’s after-dark playgrounds. That’s how he likes it.

Lara Fox is an independent jack-of-all-trades, who can do anything she sets her mind to—except that falling-in-love thing. She’s got a need for control too strong for most men, and an inability to walk away from a challenge. Including a challenge from Karl. He’s cocky, arrogant, and demanding. That’s how she needs it.

They’re perfect for each other. But what begins as a sensual battle of wills turns into a journey neither is prepared for when Lara is threatened and emotional walls start to crumble . . .

The great thing about this book is that Karl and Lara are perfect for each other—watching them discover that is a treat. Theirs is no conventional story. Lara explores the D/s world, and it’s a path that takes her to some interesting places. What I like best about White’s books is that even if her characters don’t pursue my particular fantasy, it’s always clear why the characters do what they do. Lara and Karl are both well-motivated characters whose responses seem real.

Wicked is a book of individual journeys and romance, and the way these elements work together is quite lovely. Karl is fantastic: a man who knows himself well but discovers something more, something he never believed he could have. Lara is a strong woman willing to take risks.

Those who want to read Wicked should be advised that it is a D/s story, and the subplot centers on a gay couple in Lara’s apartment building. While I liked the secondary couple, I wasn’t fully persuaded by the resolution of their story. It was romantic, but I’m not sure they dealt completely with the issue that divided them.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the character-based focus of Wicked; it’s a story I can easily recommend.

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