Take What You Want

Take What You Want

I picked up Jeanette Grey’s Take What You Want after reading Rosario’s review of it, and I’m glad I did. I’ve been reading several angsty new adult books lately. Don’t get me wrong–I like angst–but this turned out to be a sweet story about two nice people who turn a one-night stand into something more.

College senior Ellen Price spends every spare minute studying to get into medical school. Until spring break yawns before her, as empty as her wallet.With no money to hit the beach, she fills her empty to-do list with a plan: for just one week, she will become the kind of take-no-prisoners woman she secretly wishes to be, starting with the hot guy at the bar. It’s a no-risk situation: at the end of break, he’ll head back to his campus, and she’ll go back to hers. No muss, no fuss.At first, Josh Markley isn’t sure what to think when the quiet, intense beauty from his pre-med classes approaches him for a night of casual sex. Even more mystifying, she doesn’t seem to return his recognition. But if she wants to play “strangers in a bar,” he’s game.Their passionate night is a welcome respite from life’s stress, but afterward, Josh realizes he wants more—from himself, from life, from Ellen. Except she still thinks he’s a one-off she’ll never see again. Confessing the truth now—before she figures it out on her own—could shatter the fragile beginnings of just what the doctor ordered. A forever love.

The chemistry between Josh and Ellen is palpable, so their initial encounter is very believable, and this read is plenty steamy. But I also liked their interaction outside the bedroom and the way these two changed for the better because of their relationship. Josh’s interaction with his parents is another aspect I enjoyed. So many new adults have problematic issues with parents, so this positive relationship was quite refreshing.

A couple of things struck me as weird–Ellen asking to meet Josh’s family after just a few days, for instance. But for the most part, I enjoyed Take What You Want: 4 out of 5.

 

Our Little Secret

Our Little Secret

Time for a true crime review of Our Little Secret by Kevin Flynn and Rebecca Lavoie.

For twenty years Daniel Paquette’s murder in New Hampshire went unsolved. It remained a secret between two high school friends until Eric Windhurst’s arrest in 2005. What was revealed was a crime born of adolescent passion between Eric and Daniel’s stepdaughter, Melanie–redefining the meaning of loyalty, justice, and revenge.

I was drawn to this book because I remember the Unsolved Mysteries segment about it. The case seemed so strange and mysterious. The book makes it a lot less mysterious, in part because the back cover reveals who committed the crime. Still, Our Little Secret is an interesting glimpse into how so many people could know what had happened but yet nothing was done about it for so long. Several people had small pieces of the puzzle, and those who actually knew the truth were family members who weren’t about to turn anyone in.

This book is also an interesting glimpse of what happens to a person who does something like this. Neither Eric nor Melanie is able to put it behind them. Eric in particular is weighed down by what he did. And truly, he should be. Whatever Paquette may have done to his stepdaughter–and nothing has been proven there–killing him was not the way to go about resolving it.

Our Little Secret was an engaging read that offered intriguing glimpses into the people involved: 4 out of 5.

Bespelled by Austen

Bespelled by Austen

The Bespelled by Austen anthology is the second book I read on my new Kobo. (Yippee! Still loving this.) Since I love Jane Austen, it was an obvious choice when I was offered a free review copy. I liked it, but not as much as I hoped.

What if Austen had believed in reincarnation and vampires? Join four bestselling romance authors as they channel the wit and wisdom of Jane Austen.

Almost Persuaded In this Regency tale of Robert and Jane, New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh brings together former lovers who have seen beyond the veil of forgetfulness to their past mistakes, and are determined to be together in this life, and forever.

Northanger Castle Caroline’s obsession with Gothic novels winds up being good training for a lifetime of destroying the undead with her newfound beau, in this Regency by Colleen Gleason.

Blood and Prejudice Set in the business world of contemporary New York City, Liz Bennett joins Mr. Darcy in his hunt for a vampire cure in New York Times bestselling author Susan Krinard’s version of the classic story.

Little to Hex Her Present-day Washington, D.C., is full of curious creatures in Janet Mullany’s story, wherein Emma is a witch with a wizard boyfriend and a paranormal dating service to run.

Almost Persuaded is the story I was most excited to read. I felt there was a little too much reliance on the connection from the past lives, as this was discussed frequently in their conversation. A longer story with more time to develop the romance in this life could have added a lot.

Northanger Castle was both interesting and frustrating. The heroine did a lot of speculating about the people around her based on the books she read, which was a big part of Northanger Abbey. I must admit I found it frustrating in the Austen story, so it’s no surprise that I struggled with it here. I love the way the story played out, though. Would have loved more time to strengthen the romance.

Blood and Prejudice was the weakest story of the anthology. It stuck to the original story a bit too closely, and used much of Austen’s dialogue for Darcy. Yes, Darcy has been a vampire for two hundred years, but his formal language combined with Elizabeth’s modern lingo seemed rather jarring. Unlike the other stories, which could have benefited from a longer page count, Blood and Prejudice went on a bit too long. I have to wonder if my familiarity with the original story kept me from enjoying this one more. I’d love to hear from someone who read this who hasn’t read Pride & Prejudice.

Little to Hex Her was a charming story. This one followed the plot of Emma quite closely but gave it a enough of a twist to make it fun. I loved the matchmaking element—it was perfect for Emma. This story was a lovely way to close the anthology. I don’t agree with her thoughts about Knightley, though.

All in all, Bespelled by Austen was worth reading, but I don’t think I’ll go back to it: 3 out of 5.

Unanswered Cries

Unanswered Cries

I haven’t read a book in a month or so until this one: Unanswered Cries by Thomas French. Before this, I’d hit a new low when it came to reading. I have been reading—but it’s been mostly scrapbooking magazines with the occasional graphic novel thrown in. Then I saw an episode of American Justice and decided to try a book about the case. Thank you, Paperback Swap.

On a warm Florida evening, Karen Gregory saw a familiar face at her door. What the beautiful young woman could not know was that she was staring into the eyes of her killer—a savage monster who would rape her, stab her to death, and leave her battered body on the floor outside the bedroom.

Detectives frantically sifting through the evidence were tormented by one disturbing question after another: what did the strangely worded note from a friend mean? Why was the house so orderly, when it had been the scene of a frenzied struggle? Why were the bloody footprints on the carpet barefoot? What happened to the white lace teddy missing from Karen’s drawer?

Police detective Larry Tosi stayed up nights watching the video of the grisly crime scene, looking for that one telltale clue that would lead him to Karen’s killer—until slowly, and with growing horror, he realized that the maniac he was hunting was someone he knew . . . someone he called a friend.

This book ended up being the perfect anecdote to my writing ennui. The case itself offers a number of intriguing twists—the initial challenge to pin down a suspect; then the growing suspicion of the primary investigator that the murderer was someone he knew.

But these elements simply add to an already strong read. French delves into the lives of everyone involved in the case: the victim’s family and loved ones, the investigators, the accused, the lawyers, and the jury. It’s rare to find a true-crime book where all of the people are so vividly and movingly portrayed. It is a devastating depiction of the results one act by one man can cause in the lives of so many.

I liked the episode of American Justice about this case. Obviously it was interesting enough to make me seek out the book. Unanswered Cries offers a fuller picture of the case, one well worth reading. I couldn’t put it down.

If there is anything negative to say, it’s this—I can’t find any other true-crime books by this author. Unanswered Cries: 4.5 out of 5.

To Desire a Devil

To Desire a Devil

After reading the previous books in Elizabeth Hoyt‘s The Legend of the Four Soldiers series, I’ve been looking forward to the fourth book in the series: To Desire a Devil.

Reynaud St. Aubyn has spent the last seven years in hellish captivity. Now half mad with fever he bursts into his ancestral home and demands his due. Can this wild-looking man truly be the last earl’s heir, thought murdered by Indians years ago?

Beatrice Corning, the niece of the present earl, is a proper English miss. But she has a secret: No real man has ever excited her more than the handsome youth in the portrait in her uncle’s home. Suddenly, that very man is here, in the flesh—and luring her into his bed.

Only Beatrice can see past Reynaud’s savagery to the noble man inside. For his part, Reynaud is drawn to this lovely lady, even as he is suspicious of her loyalty to her uncle. But can Beatrice’s love tame a man who will stop at nothing to regain his title—even if it means sacrificing her innocence?

Hoyt is one of my favorite historical romance writers around, which also (for good or ill) means I expect a lot from her. Usually she delivers an exceptional story. This time around, I liked the story OK, but wouldn’t consider it an exceptional one.

I liked the way we see how Reynaud’s time in captivity has affected him. It’s no surprise that it would. The scene by the coach where he imagines himself back in battle is painfully vivid. I couldn’t help but sympathize with him.

I had a tougher time with the way he was so domineering with Beatrice. He pushes and pushes and pushes her to become more involved with him. And though Beatrice really knows little about him, she follows his lead. Her trust is eventually rewarded, yes, but I thought she came to trust him all too quickly.

The romance still works, but it doesn’t have the same magic to it as many of her other books, such as The Serpent Prince.

To Desire a Devil: 3.5 out of 5.

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.

Night Rising

Night Rising 

Book reviews are subjective. I was exceptionally aware of this fact as I read Chris Marie Green’s Night Rising.

Stuntwoman Dawn Madison is a girl with a lot of attitude and a lot of issues, mostly about living up to the legacy of her mother, a world famous movie star and sex symbol, whose untimely death left Dawn to be raised by her dad, Frank, nobody’s notion of single-father-of-the-year. Now that she’s all grown up, she and Frank aren’t on the best of terms, to say the least.

Still, he is her dad, and when he vanishes while investigating the bizarre sighting—caught on film—of a supposedly long-dead child star, she comes home to Tinseltown to join the search for him. Working with his colleagues—a psychic short in stature but big in dreams of stardom, a beautiful Latina techno-geek, and the PI firm’s never-seen-boss—she discovers an erotic and bloody underground society made up of creatures she thought existed only on the screen.

They are devious. They are deadly. And some of them are dangerously attractive . . .

I’ve spotlighted one of the covers in Green’s Vampire Babylon series , and I was drawn to this one as well. Having read one of Green’s books before, I hoped I would enjoy this one. The overwhelming feeling I had as I read, however, was that I’m not the right reader for this book.

Explaining why is a bit difficult. Green finds a unique niche in the vampire world, and the characters are interesting . . . you know, as I write this, I think that maybe the heroine is the issue. I’ve read urban fantasy that I’ve enjoyed even if there is no clear-cut romance involved. But I have to really love the protagonist, and in this case I just didn’t. I admired Dawn’s resolve to find her father—and found that the most interesting element—but wasn’t sufficiently impressed by her. Night Rising also includes the makings of a love triangle, but I wasn’t enough invested in the heroine to want to follow it.

To Green’s credit, the characters feel very real. Even the secondary characters have depth, history, and individual quirks. Kiko and Matt are my favorites.

In short, I read Night Rising and was intrigued by certain developments but remained emotionally detached. I don’t think I’ll read the next two books, but I can see how others might find this series appealing.

Night Rising: 3 out of 5.

One Wrong Step

One Wrong Step 

I’ve got a serious jones for contemporary romance, and it’s led me to read several romantic suspense novels. Hey, I’ll take what I can get. I was intrigued by the cover and blurb for Laura Griffin’s One Wrong Step.

She never planned to get involved with her ex again, especially not in his murder. . . .

But that’s just what happens when Celie Wells has an encounter with her former husband, and he turns up dead an hour later. Now, after working hard to distance herself from his crooked ways and shady connections, she finds she’s smack dab in the middle of his murder investigation. And it isn’t just the police who have their eye on her, but an enraged drug lord who is seeking payback.

The only person who seems to be on her side is old acquaintance John McAllister. But the sexy reporter has a nose for news, as well as a reputation as a playboy. Is he helping Celie out because he wants a story . . . or a one-night stand? She knows John’s interest is potentially hazardous to her heart. But not accepting his help could put her life at even greater risk—and she can’t afford one wrong step.

One Wrong Step is a quick read, one that kept me turning pages. John and Celie are fully realized characters, and I like the way Celie’s history is revealed slowly. John is a good match for her; I admired his stubbornness and his resolve to help Celie. It’s easy to see why she finds him so attractive.

One stylistic choice kept me from enjoying the book more. A scene would build to a certain point, then the action would shift to another scene. Then, the conclusion of the first scene would be revealed in hindsight. An example: Celie’s ex-husband shows up at her house and he asks for money. Cut to a new scene. Later, we find out how the first scene played out. Here’s another example: John is at Celie’s house, and he opens the medicine cabinet. Cut. The reader doesn’t know what he saw there until a later scene.

This technique kept me interested in the story—I wanted to know what happened next—but it also created an emotional distance. I didn’t get to see how a character reacts in the moment it happens. Instead, it’s discussed or thought about later. This works fine for some scenes, but with others it left me wanting more. I’m curious about whether this is Griffin’s usual style or if it’s one she only used for this novel.

One Wrong Step: 3 out of 5.

No Man’s Bride

No Man’s Bride 

When I read books, I either like them or dislike them. Sometimes, I’ll have a “meh” reaction, but the books that linger in my memory do so because I feel strongly about them one way or another. Shana Galen’s No Man’s Bride was a unique reading experience: I had strong feelings of both like and dislike.

Catherine Fullbright has vowed never to marry. Growing up with a disreputable father, she witnessed male behavior at its very worst. Unfortunately her ambitious parent refuses to marry off Catie’s pretty, pliable younger sister until the elder is wed—and his underhanded scheming comes to a head when Catie finds herself standing at the altar with her sister’s fiancé.

To achieve his ambitions, Quint Childers, Lord Valentine, needs a wife—some charming, gracious lovely to play the perfect hostess . . . certainly not a brash, stubborn hellion like Catherine Fullbright. Why, then, is he mesmerized by the fiery chit? And when an old man’s deception puts Catie in Quint’s bed, why does the prospect of their union excite the handsome lord so? Winning the remarkable lady’s love will be a trial—she doesn’t even like him! Still, is that a glint of desire he sees flashing in those exquisite hazel eyes?

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a sucker for a plot about someone who falls for a sibling’s fiancé. I don’t know why I find it so appealing, but it’s one of those plots I enjoy. So when I was rearranging my TBR books after my RWA haul, I set this book aside to read instead of shelving it.

A hundred or so pages into No Man’s Bride, and I wasn’t sure I would finish. In the space of those pages, the heroine had tied up her (admittedly bratty) sister in the garden at a ball, married the hero in a drugged stupor, and stormed out of the house the day after her wedding wearing only a sheet. I wasn’t sure the story would or could improve, but I kept reading, as if the story was a calamity I couldn’t look away from.

Then the story took a surprising turn. Once the hero and heroine retire to the country, a charming romance blossoms between them. It was sweet to see Catie’s opinion shift from skepticism to trust. I truly enjoyed watching this transformation.

Then they return to town, and the drama continues . . .

So while I didn’t exactly enjoy the first part of the story, I did keep reading, and that counts for something. Plus it’s got a great middle section. No Man’s Bride: 2.5 out of 5.

Perfect Beauty

Perfect Beauty

I can’t go on a trip without taking books with me. This time around, I selected Perfect Beauty by Keith Elliot Greenberg and Detective Vincent Felber as my airplane book.

Cynthia George was the stunning wife of one of Akron, Ohio’s, most successful restaurateurs, and a mother of seven. She flaunted her money, her body . . . even her extramarital affairs. Until she got in too deep with Jeff Zack, her younger, longtime lover who was also the father of one of her children—a secret that she kept for many years.

In a crime that shocked the heartland, Zack was killed, execution style, in the parking lot of a BJ’s Wholesale Club in Akron. From the beginning, investigators suspected Cynthia was involved. Little did they know that her other lover was the murderer. John Zaffino knew about Cynthia’s affair with Zack—and was jealous enough to do something about it . . . for good.

I first heard about this case through an episode of American Justice. At the time, Zaffino had been tried and convicted of the murder. However, it seemed clear that George was also involved. When I saw this book, I grabbed it so I could learn more about the case. It’s a bit of a slow read at first. I read a chapter and set it down several times. I decided to take the book with me to make sure I finished it.

The book becomes more interesting as it unfolds. Felber’s perspective offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse that isn’t offered in the documentary due to time constraints. While some of it is intriguing, other points seem designed to justify Felber’s point of view, and I found them somewhat distracting and extraneous.

The case itself was fascinating, and once Perfect Beauty turns to George’s trial, I was completely hooked. I just wish the case had the outcome I wanted. Oh, well. Not the book’s fault.

Perfect Beauty: 3 out of 5.

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