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.

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.

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.

My Sister Is a Werewolf

My Sister Is a Werewolf

After reading several chapters of a historical romance, I decided I wasn’t in the mood for dark angst and set it aside. Despite being a bit burned out on paranormals, I picked up Kathy Love’s My Sister Is a Werewolf. I liked the Young brothers vampire series, so I thought I might like this one.

Elizabeth Young’s brothers think they have it rough as vampires? Ha! Two words for them: unwanted hair. What werewolf Elizabeth craves is a normal life with a husband, kids, and less shaving. Unfortunately the vaccine she’s researched isn’t working yet. Worse, she’s in heat—and soon every dangerous wolf pack for miles around will be at her door. To buy time, she needs to have sex, and often, with the first human male she can find.

Veterinarian Jensen Adler just meant to drown his sorrows, until a stunning, leather—clad brunette made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Now he’s caught up in something really weird, definitely dangerous, and, okay, extremely hot. So his new girlfriend’s hiding something (and she’s a little freaky about the moon), but Jensen knows true love when he feels it, and this time, he’s not giving up. no matter how hairy things get.

As you can see from the blurb, it turns out that this book is part of the Young series. I’m not sure how I missed that, so it was a nice surprise. And nice pretty much describes this book. It was a refreshing break from the dark angst, a quick and easy read, and I liked the characters.

Like I said, nice.

It didn’t quite get beyond that, however. Romances can take place in a short period of time and still be convincing. In this case, though, I wasn’t fully convinced. I believe that Elizabeth and Jensen are off to a good start, but that’s as far as I’d go. The villain was defeated in a scene that went so quickly I wondered if I’d missed it.

On the plus side: Jensen and the way the vaccine element is resolved.

My Sister Is a Werewolf: 3.5 out of 5.

Broken Wing

Broken Wing 

When Kristie recommends something with enthusiasm, I listen. After all, I love Lisa Kleypas’s Dreaming of You almost as much as she does. And I adored North and South. So her recommendation of Judith James’s Broken Wing caught my attention, and I ordered it immediately.

Abandoned as a child and raised in a brothel, Gabriel St. Croix has never known tenderness, friendship or affection. Although fluent in sex, he knows nothing of love. Lost and alone inside a nightmare world, all he’s ever wanted was companionship and a place to belong. Hiding physical and emotional scars behind an icy façade, his only relationship is with a young boy he has spent the last five years protecting from the brutal reality of their environment. But all that is about to change. The boy’s family has found him, and they are coming to take him home.

Sarah Munroe blames herself for her brother’s disappearance. When he’s located, safe and unharmed despite where he as been living. Sarah vows to help the man who rescued and protected him in any way she can. With loving patience she helps Gabriel face his demons and teaches him to trust in friendship and love. But when the past catches up with him, Gabriel must face it on his own.

Becoming a mercenary, pirate and a professional gambler, Gabriel travels to London, France, and the Barbary Coast in a desperate attempt to find Sarah again and all he knows of love. On the way, however, he will discover the most dangerous journey, and the greatest gamble of all, is within the darkest reaches of his own heart.

I read Broken Wing in a few days, and I enjoyed many of the things Kristie praises—Gabriel’s journey from wounded to warm and loving; Sarah’s acceptance of his past; the slow development of the romance. All of these elements, especially the last, made me read this book quickly.

Then the story takes a turn. Spoiler ahead.

I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of long separations. They don’t usually work for me, and Sarah and Gabriel spend a goodly chunk of the book separated. And I was a little disappointed in the reunion itself—mainly the way that Sarah has to seek out Gabriel after he returns to England.

Also, James’s writing style includes a tendency to tell rather than show. The technique works well in some places, since the story takes place over a long period of time. But some judicious showing would have helped me connect to the characters more.

The end result is that I liked Broken Wing but didn’t love it: 3.5 out of 5. But I’d still read any other book Kristie gets this enthusiastic about.

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.

TBR Day: Day of Fire

Day of Fire 

I’ve had Kathleen Nance’s Day of Fire for a few years now, so I decided it was a good choice for TBR Day. It was a nice read.

Canada: For over a century it’s been closed off, quarantined. Now, in 2176, its people thrive. The country still needs peacekeepers, though—and the Mounties are there. Be It All. Do It All. Those are the high-tech police force’s twin mottos. They’re Day Daniels’s mottos, too.

But things are heating up. Someone or something called the Shadow Voice is broadcasting treason, and Day’s determined to stamp it out. Seeking the source of the threat, Day enters the techbar, Flash Point. There she meets Lian Firebird, an enigmatic government operative. He offers—no, insists—upon joining her trek to the legendary Citadel. Well, Day decides, Mounties work alone, but she can still do and be it all—even with this hunk at her heels.

Day of Fire is part of the 2176 series. I’ve read one of the other books in the series a year or so ago; I didn’t feel lost while I read, so the story stands fine on its own. The world Nance creates is an interesting one.

I enjoyed the glimpse into Day’s life as a Mountie. Less enjoying was Day’s black-and-white thinking. Given her background and job, Day’s devotion to law and order is understandable. Her insistence that things be done her way was less understandable. I ultimately liked her, but had some frustrating moments along the way. For this reason, I wasn’t as invested in the romance as I wanted to be.

I was more intrigued by Lian and his background, especially since it is revealed slowly throughout the book. Day of Fire is every bit as much about Lian’s journey as it is Day’s, and I thought the ending was especially strong. It was nice the way the threads of the story came together.

Day of Fire: 3.5 out of 5.

TBR Day: An Unladylike Offer

Unladylike Offer 

For the second month of Keishon’s TBR Day, I selected Christine Merrill’s An Unladylike Offer. I started to read it several months ago, but set it aside after a few chapters. The reason? I thought, Here we go—innocent miss meets philandering hero. Not again.

Miss Esme Canville’s brutal father is resolved to marry her off—but she won’t submit tamely to his decree. Instead, she’ll offer herself to notorious rake Captain St. John Radwell and enjoy all the freedom of a mistress!

St. John is intent on mending his rakish ways. He won’t seduce an innocent virgin. But Esme is determined, beautiful, and very, very tempting . . .

When I returned to this book, I expected a fairly standard read, but I vowed to finish it. I did, and it turned out to be a better-than-standard story: 3.5 out of 5.

The beginning of An Unladylike Offer is a bit slow, but the pacing improves as the story progresses, especially when Esme goes to live with St. John’s sister-in-law. As for the characters, I found St. John the more interesting of the couple. He vacillates between believing his family’s expectations of him and wanting to be better. His transformation is perhaps the best aspect of the book.

With the romance, Esme recognizes her feelings early in the story, but it is a longer process for St. John. It’s fascinating to watch him grapple with he feels for Esme, especially since he must marry a wealthy woman.

Apart from the slow beginning and a too-predictable turn toward the end, An Unladylike Offer is a story worth reading. I will certainly read Merrill’s books in future.

TBR Challenge: Learning Curve

Learning Curve

This month, my TBR challenge is to read series books that have been in my TBR a while. I’ve had Terry McLaughlin’s Learning Curve for a couple of years now. I read a few chapters, then set it aside. I decided to pick it up again and see what I thought.

High school history teacher Joe Wisniewski may be in a rut, but he dug it himself and he’s not planning on getting out anytime soon. The last thing he wants is to mentor a starry-eyed newcomer, so when he gets an unexpected assignment—Emily Sullivan, a student teacher with a steamroller smile and dynamite legs—he digs in deeper and ducks for cover.

Emily has looked up to the legendary “Wiz” for a long time. In her opinion, the man is coasting these days, and she’s sure a little change in his routine is exactly what he needs. Besides this assignment is her chance to prove to her family—and herself—that she can stick to one project.

The question is: Will Emily get Joe fired up or just plain fired?

The first part of the book is a bit slow, and I didn’t initially connect with the characters. That’s why I stopped reading the first time. The further I got into the story, though, the better it got. Emily was very dedicated to the job and to Joe, and boy, could I relate to his feeling of burnout.

As the story continues, both characters become more real and sympathetic. I loved the scene where Joe ends up taking Emily to her house for Thanksgiving. Watching Emily fight her feelings for him even as her mom recognizes them made the story more compelling. And after that, the book gets even better.

At times the language is almost lyrical. Take this paragraph.

And then someone plucked her off the floor and tossed her up and around like a rag doll, and she fell against a solid chest and into a pair of long arms that closed around her the way she liked best—she was home. She wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist, and in that moment, as his big hands cradled her back and his breath puffed warm against her throat, she knew that she’d been wrong about everything. He wasn’t the emotional half of her emotional equation. He was its sum, its center, its completion.

She was in love with him.

Learning Curve ended up being a sweet, touching love story. I’m definitely going to look for Terry McLaughlin’s books in future. If the beginning had been stronger, I’d rate this higher, but I give it a 3.5 out of 5.

Solid Soul

Solid Soul

I’ve never read Brenda Jackson, but I was intrigued by the cover of Solid Soul. It ended up being an interesting read: 3.5 out of 5.

In the real world there was no way flower shop owner Kylie Hagan would ever meet up with millionaire Chance Steele. But the world of single parents and teenage hormones brought the together for the first time–and a simmering passion they both tried to deny wouldn’t keep them apart for long.

Chance made her think of hot, sultry Southern nights. Kylie had him imagining satin sheets and soul-stirring kisses. But in the cold light of day, they had to resist each other. There was no way they’d let uncontrollable desire ignite their carefully protected hearts.

But some things they couldn’t ignore. . . .

If you were to look at a list of my least-favorite plot devices, matchmaking kids would be high on that list. Kylie’s daughter and Chance’s son provide the catalyst for them to meet by saying they are in love with each other. From there, the youths play a minor role in the book (thankfully) and the focus switches to Chance and Kylie.

The two are immediately attracted to each other, but Kylie is reluctant to get involved. She wants to set a good example for her daughter–an understandable desire–and she was also burned by her daughter’s father. Kylie embodies the once-burned, twice-shy philosophy. Both of these issues are understandable, but I thought her reluctance went on way too long, especially after it was clear they were involved and that Chance wanted more than a casual thing.

The kids play a role in the end to bring Chance and Kylie back together. I wish the story hadn’t gone that route, but I did enjoy seeing the couple work through the issues. 

Chance was terrific, even if I thought his explanation of the “forged of Steele” subtitle was a little corny. I wish that had been simply a subtitle indicating the name of the series rather than have it incorporated into the dialogue. Still, this was a small point.

Overall, I enjoyed Solid Soul, and I plan to pick up more books by this author. 

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