Lengths

Lengths

New adult? Free? Yes, please. And that’s how I ended up reading Lengths by Steph Campbell and Liz Reinhardt.

When Deo meets Whit, she’s all sexy makeup and fierce, smart-ass fun. It doesn’t take him long to see past her tough shell. And when he gets a good look at what’s under all the superficial stuff that usually gets his attention, it leaves Deo wondering if there might be more to life than living fast and free.

Too bad Whit has a past she doesn’t plan on sharing—no matter how hot Deo is. She might want him, but she knows better than to let her guard down.

Deo falls for Whit, and falls hard. But everything about her, down to that mysterious tattoo and the way she thrashes in her sleep, tells him that the girl he loves is hiding something. And the more he pushes for answers, the more Whit pulls away.

I liked Deo quite a bit–he’s such a vivid, real character. I loved seeing his relationships with his family and best friend, Cohen. Whit was more problematic. I certainly sympathized with her backstory, but after a while I got tired of her hot/cold treatment of Deo. Whit is definitely a woman of extremes, and even when I understood it, I at times lost patience with it.

Can I just say how much I liked Deo’s mother, Marigold? She could have been a stereotypical hippie but she ends up being so much more. I loved the talk she and Deo had about how her choices affected his beliefs about relationships. And she made me laugh with her endless euphemisms for sex.

Despite my appreciation for the characters, I realized something that affected my ability to connect with this book–the fact that many things happen off page. A chapter will end just as a confrontation is about to begin, and then the next chapter starts with one of the characters thinking about what happened. This was a pattern, and I really wanted to see some of the moments rather than hear about them after the fact.

Lengths had a lot of nice elements but I didn’t completely engage with it: 3.5 out of 5.

All I Want for Christmas Is a Duke

All I Want for Christmas Is a Duke

I collect Christmas stories throughout the year and save them to read at the end of the year. All I Want for Christmas Is a Duke looked promising, but I couldn’t finish it. And I won’t be picking it back up.

“Merry Christmas, Mrs. Robinson” is Delilah Marvelle’s contribution to the anthology, and it had a lot of things going for it. Older woman, younger man–I love this trope. Woman falls in love with letters written by another man is another idea I like. So I jumped into this story with great expectations. Unfortunately, it just didn’t work for me. I think Marvelle’s writing simply isn’t for me. It’s quite melodramatic, and I couldn’t suspend my disbelief. The story opens at a party where Jane Robinson discovers that her husband didn’t write the letters she fell in love with. She confronts him; they argue; he dies. Afterward, she sells all her belongings and moves to a rooming house where Martin’s aunt lives. Martin, of course, is the man who really wrote the letters.

I liked Martin well enough, but Jane was another matter. I don’t get how she flitted through any social circle she wanted. She’s also quite prickly with Martin, a man she knew in their adolescence. I guess she was supposed to be spirited, but I didn’t understand why she couldn’t be a little courteous. And how realistic is it that she would turn down money from her dead husband’s brother because she wants to make her own way? I kept reading for a little while, but I soon realized I didn’t care what happened to Jane, so I stopped reading.

Enter Maire Claremont’s “The Twelve Days of Seduction.” It begins with Adriana on the verge of losing her position as governess to a duke. The duke, it seems, has learned that she “is nothing like a governess should be.” She is *gasp* a novelist. So she can’t be governess to his ward. But he will consent to having her as his mistress. And he kindly states that she can still see his ward, because they care too much for each other to be separated. For some reason it’s not appropriate for her to tutor the child any longer, but she can spend time with her after she becomes his mistress.

Ick.

I gave both stories a try, but this is a DNF all around.

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.

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.

For All Eternity

For All Eternity

I can’t remember why I bought Heather Cullman’s For All Eternity. I’m sure I read a review somewhere, but I can’t remember where. However I heard about the book, it’s been languishing on the TBR shelves for a while, so I decided to give it a try.

Sophie Barrington had fallen from the glittering heaven of the haut ton to the hell of servitude. Once a diamond of the first water about to marry the most eligible bachelor of the Season, she had been ruined by one foolish, innocent escapade. And since her guardian had squandered her fortune and run off to America, she was worse than ruined. She was penniless. Now, it was pure desperation that drove her to accept a position as a maid at a country estate . . .

But it was fate that made it the home of the Marquess of Beresford. Here a man’s awesome power and sensuality would make her tremble. Here this domineering lord would unmask the deep emotions beneath the foolish manners that had made her fashion’s darling. And he—who had been a woman’s fool once and swore never to be again—would find he could have his revent. Or he could embrace a lady who swept away his pride to open the doors of all-consuming love . . .

If I had to pick one word to describe For All Eternity, that word would be sweet. Not in an inspirational novel kind of way, but amiable and good natured. The story is charming, the characters agreeable, the heroine naïve and sweet. In fact, seeing Sophie grow from a spoiled 17-year-old into a mature (yet still sweet) young woman is one of the books strengths. Nicholas, the hero of this story, is certainly Sophie’s match. He’s noble and devoted. Think of a male word for sweet. :) (Let’s go with obliging.)

Despite the book’s pleasantness, the relationship between Nicholas and Sophie progresses a bit too quickly. One minute they despise each other—the next, admiration and interest have blossomed. A slower process would have made this more believable. Also coming in on the not-quite-believable side is the response of the families to the match.

For All Eternity is enjoyable enough: 3 out of 5, a rating that is nice if not sweet.

Her Best Friend’s Husband

Her Best Friend’s Husband

I’ve tried to like Justine Davis’s latest books. Really. But they just don’t have the same zing for me that her earlier books did. Have the books changed or my reading preferences? I don’t know, but I’m a little sad about it. My latest Davis read: Her Best Friend’s Husband.

Gabriel Taggert. Former naval officer, man of honor—and her best friend’s husband. Cara Thorpe’s feelings for the one man she could never have had always been her own shameful secret. And when her best friend disappeared without a trace, she lost them both. Until a postcard arrived, eight years late . . .

Receiving an eight-year-old message from her best friend was disturbing enough. Now Cara had to face the man she’d quietly loved for years. Would teaming up with Gabe on a dangerous hunt for the truth jeopardize their own lives . . . and the chance for a future together?

The plot hits on one of my guilty pleasure plots, so I couldn’t resist it. And the start is intriguing. A postcard that arrives eight years after the woman who wrote it disappeared? Talk about a situation that’s rife with emotion. Once the postcard arrives, Cara and Gabe travel to the town where the card was postmarked. The journey brings answers and a passion that fires them both.

There are two threads of the story—the suspense and the romance. Both threads interested me—the revelation of what happened to Hope is particularly moving—but when I finished the book I found myself wondering what Davis could have done with another 40 pages. I would have loved it if the romance in particular had more page count and depth.

In Davis’s best books, the characters are so real they practically leap off the page. I still remember many scenes in A Man to Trust, for instance. Her Best Friend’s Husband wasn’t a bad book, just a little disappointing when I know how much better she can do. It left me feeling nostalgic and wanting more.

Her Best Friend’s Husband: 3 out of 5.

Unleashing the Storm

Unleashing the Storm 

Am I the only one who hangs onto the second book in a series, waiting to read it for fear it won’t be as good as the first book? It’s happened with me more than once. That’s what I did with Sydney Croft’s Unleashing the Storm. As is often the case, I needn’t have worried. I liked this book even more than the first one. And I enjoyed the first one.

There’s a storm rising. Electricity crackles in the air. For Kira Donovan, it’s that time of year again: when the need floods her flesh, when almost any man—the bigger and the stronger the better—will do. For Kira, an animal psychic, the heat is a matter of life and death, and this year it has come at just the right time. Tom Knight, a natural-born predator, has arrived at her isolated Idaho farm—for reasons all his own . . .

At first Kira isn’t interested in Knight’s motives. She only needs him—his body, his hands, his scent. But soon, through a daze of desire and distrust, Kira discovers Knight’s world—the world of a covert operative, one man among dozens of secret agents waging an astonishing global war. Knight’s mission is to bring Kira—kicking and screaming if necessary—into the Agency for Covert Rare Operatives and harness her extraordinary gift. He never expected the powerful emotions she would ignite in him, or the fierce desire to keep her safe from harm. For as darkness gathers around them, Kira is feeling the heat once again, leading them both on a wild ride of delicious thrills . . . and terror beyond imagining.

It’s been a while since I read the first book, but many of the details returned to mind as I read this book. But really, while the ACRO world is interesting, this book is, at its heart, a love story. Tom and Kira are two characters who are truly made for each other. I love so many little things about them. I love the way she calls him “Tommy,” and I love his consideration of her feelings at the drive-in. I love the way they are unique individuals with hopes and dreams.

A woman in heat is a bit of a cliché in paranormal romance. In Unleashing the Storm, Croft not only makes it work, but makes it an essential aspect of Kira’s character. It’s no contrivance—it’s a layer of her character that makes the story come alive.

Annika and Creed make another appearance in this book. Dev’s story also advances, and I’m interested in seeing how it continues to play out. But Tom and Kira are the heart of this story. Weeks after finishing the book, I’m still thinking about them.

I have book three in the ACRO series, Seduced by the Storm, and I have a new problem. I want to read it right away! I’ll try to hold out since the next book in the series isn’t out for a while, but I’m not making any promises.

Unleashing the Storm: 4.5 out of 5.

Right Here, Right Now

Right Here, Right Now

A few chapters into HelenKay Dimon’s Right Here, Right Now, I had an idea of what I would get. In the first chapter, boy breaks up with girl, so I figured the rest of the book would run as follows: boy gets girl back, girl realizes boy is keeping secrets, girl rebuffs boy, girl realizes he deceived her for her own good, girl gets boy. An time-honored and traditional plot, and I expected this story to follow it. Instead, I got something more than I expected; Dimon provides a nuanced story that lifts Right Here, Right Now well above the norm: 4.5 out of 5.

For Gabby Pearson, being dumped in public before the dessert course has to be the lowest of the low—especially when it’s the old, “It’s not you, it’s me” speech. Honestly, how about something original: “I have five minutes to live” (very possible); “It’s not you, it’s the voices in my head” (thanks for the warning); or “I am such a powerful sexual being I could put you in a coma with one kiss” (wishful thinking). Not that Gabby would ever know since Reed Larkin never bothered to take her to bed. Why does a girl bother (to shave)? The only thing left to do is offer the guy a goodbye-forever drink . . . on the head.

Damn. Reed did his job—he walked away from Gabby rather than drag her into his unstable life and danger. Now he’s wearing her full glass of win instead of throwing her onto his sheets. It doesn’t help that the woman is smart as hell and could stop a man’s breath with that wide smile and those shapely curves. Gabby has it all, and Reed wants every inch of her. And now the joke’s on him, because new intel says Gabby has just become his assignment: He has one day to win her back, get information from her she may not know she has, and somehow protect her at the same time.

The stakes are high. The odds are impossible. And the mutual attraction is as hot and strong as Gabby’s anger. And Reed can only hope his next speech—“It’s you, baby, it’s definitely you . . .”—will be the start of something wild, something crazy, something dangerous, something wonderful . . .

The characters are where Right Here, Right Now shines. Reed’s initial pursuit of Gabby is mandated by his job, and he is conflicted from the beginning. The conflict goes deeper than this specific assignment—Reed is questioning many things about his job, and the situation with Gabby brings all his doubts to the surface. Beneath all the machinations, it’s clear that Reed pursues Gabby because he wants her.

As the story progresses, it’s evident that Gabby is equally complicated. She’s no wilting flower who blithely accepts Reed’s actions. She shows him exactly how she feels about him breaking up with her, and he has to work to get her back. Their dialogue in this section is especially crisp and witty, which makes the book a quick and fun to read.

What I most enjoyed, though, is the way the conflict plays out. I don’t want to give spoilers, so suffice it to say that the final confrontation doesn’t happen the way you might expect it to, and that’s what made Right Here, Right Now such a strong book for me. This book also features one of the most memorable, emotion-filled love scenes I’ve read this year.

If, like me, you’ve been lamenting the shortage of contemporary romance, Right Here, Right Now is one you’ll want to pick up.

Atlantis Rising

Atlantis Rising

I posted on Romancing the Blog about a book I loved by an author whose earlier books I hadn’t loved. This is it: Atlantis Rising by Alyssa Day.

I’ve tried to read her other books—really, I have. I have three—I’ve tried to read two of them, but haven’t finished either. The other one sits in my to-be-read pile, being repeatedly overlooked. So I’m not kidding when I wrote that I was a little skeptical about picking up Atlantis Rising, but I decided to give it a try. I’m so glad I did: 4 out of 5.

Riley Dawson is more than a dedicated Virginia Beach social worker. She’s blessed with a mind link that only Atlanteans have been able to access for thousands of years. Being an empath may explain her wistful connection to the roiling waves of the ocean, the sanctuary it provides, and the sexual urges that seem to emanate from fathoms below . . .

Conlan, the high prince of Atlantis, has surfaced on a mission to retrieve Poseidon’s stolen Trident. Yet something else has possessed Conlan: the intimate emotions—and desires—of a human. Irresistably drawn to the uncanny beauty, Conlan soon shares more than his mind. But in the midst of a battle to reclaim Poseidon’s power, how long can a forbidden love last between two different souls from two different worlds?

This story sucked me in right from the beginning. The world-building is exceptional—set up strongly, but not so much initial detail that it becomes overwhelming. More aspects of the society are revealed as the story continues, a technique that really works.

Another thing that works—the relationship between Conlan and Riley. Their connection is a tangible one, and I liked seeing how it deepened during the course of the book.

Of course, we got glimpses of the other Warriors of Poseidon, and it looks like there will be many more books to come in the series. If they are all as good as this one, that’s a good thing.

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