Thursday, February 28, 2013

On Housekeeping: A Review of Destiny's Embrace by Beverly Jenkins

Destiny's EmbraceLast year I reviewed Indigo by Beverly Jenkins, and it was book of the month for February 2012. I'm almost ashamed to say that I haven't read anything else by her since, but there are many books and little time. Until now. Let's jump right in.

Mariah comes from a rough upbringing, with her mother having abused her for most of her life. Finally breaking away after years of ill treatment, she pursues a job as a housekeeper for rancher Logan Yates. Logan is used to being the one in charge, so he's taken aback by Mariah's bossy and determined nature. He's even more surprised to find himself attracted to her, even as the two argue endlessly.

One of the things Jenkins seems to do very well is building chemistry through dialogue. The conversations between Mariah and Logan feel passionate, and you can tell that they have vivid feelings for one another, even when they're angry. It's a very effective way of building the sexual tension, as well as making them a genuinely convincing couple.

Much of the story and it's conflicts center around Mariah finding freedom, self worth, and a place for herself. I liked that she's willful, and I like that she stands up for herself when Logan tries to be pushy with her. I was genuinely glad that she manages to separate herself from her hateful home life, and that the new family she discovered was so very ready to embrace her.

The Yates family, apart from being full of sequel bait, are quite charming and unique. Alanza, Logan's stepmother, seems to have lead quite the interesting life, and she's come out of it with a great deal of self possession and perceptiveness. I'm eager to see more of her and her sons in future books.

If the book has a flaw worth mentioning, it's that the happy ending is arrived at rather easily. There's nothing really stopping Logan and Mariah from being together. This is evident when they finally decide to make a go of it, and the remainder of the book is a ride over rainbows on the back of unicorns under a shower of stars and happiness (and the unicorn kick's Mariah's mom in the face for good measure). It's just a little too much sweet for my taste, without the bitterness earlier in the story to make it palatable.

I finished this book, if not wholly satisfied, than at least fairly cheerful. I look forward to more books in the series. Historical romance fans who like a ranch setting will like this book. 4 stars.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Watch This! The Switch

Okay. When I was trying to come up with things to review for romance month, I watched so many romcoms that my brain started to melt.There were funny movies and there were stupid movies and there were mind-numbingly boring movies. But nothing I watched was quite as blatantly offensive and awkward and The Switch, and that's why I decided to review this one.

So the premise is this: Kassie wants a baby, and decides she's going to go it alone since she doesn't have a husband. She hires Roland, a handsome professor who needs the money, to be her donor. She has a party to celebrate her upcoming pregnancy. He best friend, Wally, who has always secretly liked her, gets drunk at the party and switches his sperm with the donor's. Wacky hijinks! Kassie leaves town, and returns years later with a kid that  reminds Wally a lot of himself.

Oh God, where to begin? This movie is supposed to be comedic, but I found it literally impossible to laugh at most of it. The sperm switch is not just absurd, it's deeply disturbing. Hubby called the incident "rape-y" and he's not wrong. It's kind of equivalent to getting drunk and violating your best friend. It's not forgivable and it's not particularly funny. Pregnancy is one of the most personal experiences a woman can undergo, and to have that experience hijacked is so terrifyingly wrong. The wrongness isn't really addressed, though, because you know, wacky hijinks!

 Then there's the kid. This freaking kid. He's a little adult with loads of neuroses, most of them way more overt than what you would ever see in a real life normal child. One of his quirks is collecting picture frames and making up stories about the people in them, because he feels something is missing because he doesn't know his father's family. That's kind of precious, I guess. He's sweet, but he doesn't seem like a real child to me. The dynamic between the kid and Wally is actually nicely done, but it didn't manage to offset the extreme awkwardness that the original premise left me feeling.

Overall, one of the least funny comedies I've ever seen. It means well, but in the end it comes off as gross and offensive. There are a lot of shoddily addressed implications and not enough chemistry between the main characters to make up for it. Of all of the romcoms in all of the land that you could potentially watch, I recommend staying away from this one.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

On Seed Competence: A Review of How to Get Over Your Ex. by Nikki Logan

How To Get Over Your ExToday I bring you another early example of Harlequin's Kiss line, which I still have so many high hopes for. Georgia is humiliated when her on-air radio proposal is turned down. When station manager Zander offers her a large sum of money to rediscover herself over the next year--in an effort to salvage his failed promotion--she's initially skeptical. But the temptation of free spy school and the vacation of her dreams is too much to turn down. With Zander accompanying her, she gets in touch with many new sides of herself, and is ultimately lead to try love again.

The primary thing that I initially felt would appeal to be about this book was the wish fulfillment aspect of all the things Georgia got to try. In my opinion, that aspect is underused. There were a couple of great vicarious experiences--belly-dancing and balloon rides, for example. Mostly, though, the book get's very introspective. It's not necessarily bad, but not as fun as I would have hoped.

Georgia was an incredibly likeable heroine--smart, introverted, and quirky. She knows herself, but is a bit insecure about how others see her. In coming to terms with that, she finds what she wants and realizes what lead her to the disastrous proposal in the first place. As her relationship with Zander develops, she realize that she wants lasting and permanent love, she just isn't sure whether she can have it with him.

Zander has some past wedding woes of his own. He's dealt with it by burying himself in work. Like Georgia, he's something of an introvert and a loner. The two are very well match in that respect. It's a lot of fun to see Zander forced to let someone else in.

Overall, this book had a lot of potential that it failed to completely live up to, but it was still more than decent. Light, fun, and worth the little time it will take you to read it. 4 star book.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Misc. Monday: Top Eight Most Annoying Traits in a Romance Heroine

Throughout the month I've talked a lot about the positive aspects of romance--why we read it, what makes it fantastic, and who does it the best. But those of us who love it know that it has it's negative quirks too. Yeah, there are some awesome heroines out there--beautiful, brilliant, awesome women that we relate to and admire. But then, there are the ditzes, the bitches, the whiny little babies that challenge our faith in humanity and ruin perfectly good books. So let's take today to make fun of them, shall we?

No Rest for the Wicked (Immortals After Dark, #3)#8: She Doesn't Believe In Love

The nonbeliever can be found at her very important and all consuming high intensity job, or in her one bedroom apartment with her TV and her cat. I put her low on the list because, in some cases, the non-believer heroine can be a good trope. In most cases, though, it's a tired out concept. She's stubbornly jaded and refuses to believe in the possibility of an emotional connection with another person. This is fine early in a story, but makes her come off as a bitch if she's still clinging to her disbelief after the hero displays obvious feelings for her. Even at that point, there are still ways that a good author can make the story work, but most of the time this conflict feels forced.

Lover Revealed (Black Dagger Brotherhood, #4)#7: She's a Martyred Virgin

The martyred virgin can be found hiding in the stacks at her local library, and she'll be identifiable by her ultra conservative clothes and her awkwardness around me. I'm not making fun of virgin heroines in general, just the ones who make it a freaking plot point. The one's for whom it defines them and sits at the center of all insecurities. "Woe is me, I will never experience sexual fulfillment or true love. Woe!" What frustrates me about the martyred virgin is her belief that all of her problems will be fixed if she can just fin a man to pop her cherry, and worse, when that encounter actually does fix everything for her. A couple orgasms and suddenly she's happy, confident, more sure of herself. Insecure virgin turned wanton love machine is a trope that makes me laugh every time, and so it's impossible for me to find it sexy.

The Downfall of a Good Girl#6: She's a Paragon of Virtue

She can be found at all of the charity events and all of the fundraisers and all of bedsides of all of the dieing people. She's a pediatrician who's hobby is rescuing stray kittens and building homes for poor people. She's kind to everyone, and everyone likes her, and if she has any flaw at all it's being too damn nice. She always says and does the right thing. My God, she is boring. She is boring and she is irritating and she is impossible to relate to. Normal people have flaws and make mistakes, especially when they're falling in love. Flaws and mistakes are what make heroines accessible to the reader. A sexy dark side never hurts.

A Night of Scandal#5: She's Insecure

She can be found peering into a mirror and describing herself in her head, using adjectives like "mousey" and "plain". She doesn't know she's beautiful! Our culture apparently finds a certain degree of modesty in women to be an attractive quality, while vanity of any kind is vilified. So it's no surprise that authors like the heroine who can't see her own beauty, and maybe even thinks she's ugly. Her character arc usually involves seeing herself in a new light through the hero's eyes, because of course he sees her as beautiful. Sometimes (God help me) she gets  makeover. I'm sure some readers love a makeover story, and I'm sure some readers love the insecure heroine in general. For me, though, this character arc is as shallow as it is warn out, and I don't care for it.

Angel's Rest (Eternity Springs, #1) #4: She's a Doormat

She can be found laying passively on the ground while the villain, or in some cases the hero, sucks the life out of her--either literally or figuratively. Or both. She's not just submissive, she's passive to the point of being useless. While her spinelessness can sometimes be mistaken for self-sacrifice, she actually just lacks enough personality to find a hands-on way to deal with her problems. She sets feminism back a hundred years every time she let's the other characters dictate what happens in her life, and that generally pisses off readers such as myself. The only good thing is that the doormat redeemed stories, in which our passive heroine grows a spine throughout the course of the story, are surprisingly empowering when written correctly.

The Selection (The Selection, #1)#3 She's Indecisive

She can be found in between two hot guys, who both mysteriously want her, and she's secretly enjoying the hell out of it, and not in the sexy erotic threesome sense. The indecisive heroine doesn't know what she wants or who she wants, and she's going to make everyone miserable because of it. She doesn't know if she wants to live in the country or the city, if she wants a high-powered job or a quiet life at home, if she likes cats or dogs, if she prefers chocolate or vanilla....The indecisive heroine is irritating because she has know idea who she is, and she's all caught up in the drama of deciding, and that drama is one long "mefest" for her. The indecisive heroine can only be redeemed if she comes to her senses and apologizes for her self focus, but she almost never does.

Tris & Izzie#2 She's Dumb as Shit

She can be found in dark alley ways running after the villain without a weapon. She leaps to stupid conclusions and causes many a Big Mis with her shoddy communication skills. The dumb heroine lacks perception and foresight, and in the worst cases she lacks basic common sense. Stupidity among heroines is intolerable, because it's almost impossible to like and relate to someone that can't see what's right in front of them. It's one of the worst devises that authors use to make conflicts, and it almost always kills the story for me.

Twilight (Twilight, #1)#1 She's Not Actually a Character

She can be found doing whatever authors think the everyday woman would like to do, and she does it with such an astounding lack of personality  that we forget she's even there. The Blank Slate Heroine kind of deserves her own post, because her existence is a literal epidemic, especially in the YA world. She tops the list because she's not just an affront to heroines, she's an insult to the reader. The idea that we just want to project ourselves into an avatar and live out a fantasy implies that we are mindless escapists. It implies that we are unable to empathize with heroines that are not just like us, and so the heroine can't have a pronounce personality, or readers won't like her and therefor won't like the book. Authors, I beg you, give the reader more credit than that. Give your heroine a life of her own. Give her opinions, give her needs, give her imperfection. Take some risks when you create your heroines. Because no trait--dumb, insecure, naive--is as irritating as a heroine entirely without traits.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

On Gray: A Review of Sweet Surrender by Maya Banks

One of the things I wanted to review more of this year is erotica. With the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey, it's something that's getting more attention, both negative and positive. It would be too easy to dismiss the lot of it as dumb porn for women, not deserving of criticism, but when we do that the critics of genre fiction win. So here we have Sweet Surrender, from the popular and prolific author Maya Banks.

This review is 18 and over, folks. Please click to read at your own discretion.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

On Bees: A Review of The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn

The Viscount Who Loved Me (Bridgertons, #2)After I finished the first book in the Bridgerton series, I was left desperately wanting more. I really enjoy Julia Quinn's gift for story telling, and her Bridgertons are as charming as one can hope for from a large, series building family.

This, the second book, is Anthony's story. He's the eldest of the siblings and takes responsibility for all of them since their father passed when he was eighteen. His father's untimely death left Anthony with a grim certainty that he himself would die young, and thus he is determined not to fall in love. He does, however, want to marry and produce an heir. So, he sets his sights on  Edwina Sheffield, a charming, pretty, intelligent young lady who he feels no particular chemistry for, and so he is assured never to fall in love with her. The perfect wife. However, Edwina will not marry a man that her elder sister, Kate, does not approve of. Anthony starts a quest to prove himself to Kate, who is perceptive, smart, and eternally overshadowed--and someone Anthony does feel intense attraction to. As the pull toward Kate grows stronger, he wonders if he can will himself to keep from loving her.

Quinn seems to be good at building internal conflict. This book dealt with the subject of living through fears, with both main characters coming to grips with seemingly irrational phobias. They share the experience of having lost parents at a young age, and so their hang ups are similar in a way. Their coming together is rewarding both in terms of the love they share and in terms of psychological healing.

On a less serious note, I felt they were both very sexy and very sweet together. There were a lot of scenes that just plain made me smile.You want them to be happy together because that makes you, the reader, happy.

If I'm forced to rip this open and name a flaw, it's only that the supposedly too stubborn to love Anthony actually gives in to all of the things that will lead to love way too easily. He doesn't even really try to keep from marrying Kate, and once married he dives right into all the gooey relationship stuff that leads to love--from conversation, comfort, the intimacy of sharing living spaces, and of course sex. He gives in so easily that I couldn't fully buy his original hang ups.

Overall, though, this was a practically flawlessly enjoyable story. For historical romance fans, the Bridgertons should not be missed. 4.5 stars.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A DNF Review of The Downfall of a Good Girl by Kimberly Lang

The Downfall of a Good GirlWhen the Harlequin's new Kiss series came out, I bought all of them. I was pretty optimistic that they would be good, fluffy fun. This one, however, was something of a cliche filled mess.

The basic premise is that Vivienne and Connor are in a contest for charity, to see who can raise the most money--Vivi is the Saint, while Connor is the Sinner. Connor is a famous musician, while Vivi is a beloved community darling and former beauty queen. The two have a history, and so the whole community is eager to see the showdown as heat erupts between them.

I got a little over halfway through this book before I ultimately through in the towel. To begin with, I thought the premise was silly. I didn't imagine I could become invested in the race to raise money through charm and popularity, and I was not wrong. I found it impossible to relate to Vivi, the pretty, popular, and obsessively involved paragon. I couldn't find any depth in her, although admittedly I wasn't looking that hard.

And then there's the cliches. Now, let me be clear: tropes and cliches can work for a book. They can. Authors can find ways to write inside and outside and all around the box, mix things up, and put new spins on familiar cliches so that they don't come across as tired. That's pretty much all that good authors do. This book does not use it's cliches to it's advantage, though. The fun, bad boy hero needles the supposedly uptight heroine in the most obvious way possible. They don't end up coming across like real people, and the supposed "history" between them is too hollow to improve on that. So they trade a lot of very forced dialogue (the dialogue in this book is crappy overall), and they make each other's naughty bits tingle for some reason.

The scene that broke me was one one where Vivi and Connor get trapped in a closet together. A cliched scene based on the laziest of lazy writing. Writers like this cliche because of the forced intimacy it generates and, again, it can be done well. In this case though, I was already pretty frustrated, so having our couple play awkward boner in a broom closet was enough to destroy my resolve to finish the story.

To conclude, I of course recommend against this book on the grounds that it is poorly written and terribly unimaginative. I will not be reading any future offerings from Lang in the Kiss line. DNF

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Follow Friday 2/21/13

  FF 2013Button 300x300 Feature & Follow #137


Q: We always talk about books that WE want. Let's turn it on its head. What books have you given other people lately?

America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren't This is the book I got Hubby for Valentine's Day! Hubby primarily reads graphic novels, but it's hard to give him those as presents because only he can keep track of all of the series he's following and which ones he'll need next. So I went with something I knew he didn't have and would probably get a kick out of. Steven Colbert is pretty amusing, and while I have no plans to read this myself, it's fun to have hubby tell me about it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Watch This! Nicolas Sparks Movie Day

Hello, and welcome to Watch This! Wednesday, romance edition, and you know what that means! It's Nicholas Sparks day!

Nicholas Sparks is somewhat infamous for his gushy mom pleasing novels that center around love and relationship development. They escape the stigma of romance novels by somewhat frequently breaking the rule of the happy ending. If I sound bitter about that, it's because I am. I find that tragedy is not synonymous with profound meaning, and the idea that a piece of fiction becomes "literature" only by being depressing is the height of discouraging.

Nevertheless, I have read (and to some extent enjoyed) four of his novels, although it was years ago and long before I started reviewing books. And, I'm kind of ashamed to say this, but I really like most of these movies. Yeah, I know. I'm not sure what's wrong with me, either. So, anyway, here we go: snippet review of all seven movies currently available on DVD, in the order of their release.

Message in a Bottle (1999)

The plot of this movie is as utterly improbable as it is depressing.Theresa, the heroine, finds a message in a bottle while she's jogging on a beach. It's a love letter, and finding it makes her believe in love again. She get's caught up in the mystery of finding the letter's author. And then she does. And they fall in love. Because of course they do. I've never found this movie appealing. Not only does the romance not work for me (I'm not a huge fan of widow stories), but it ends on an unrelentingly hopeless note. So, overall, it's not one that I recommend.

A Walk to Remember (2002)

Now this one, this movie, is one of my all time favorite love stories. Teenage bad boy Landon falls in love with the preacher's daughter, Jamie. Through her, he learns about faith, compassion, and what it means to give your heart to someone entirely. It's young love, opposites attraction, redemption, and hope in the face of death--all things that I love in a romance. The fact that it's sad is actually okay, in this case. This is one to watch when you want to cry a bit.

The Notebook (2004)

Every woman I talk to likes this movie at least a little, and for good reason. It's the story of a first love and forbidden love that turns into last love. People think of it as said, because it deals with dimension and growing old and passing on, but in my mind it's the happiest ending I can imagine in the harsh Nicholas Sparks world. These two people get a whole life together, and their story is epic. Its a happy tears sort of movie.

Nights In Rodanthe (2008)

Don't remember this one? Yeah, no one really does. This is a movie that's definitely meant for the older generation, and I don't think even they like it that much. It's a romance between two disillusioned older people who both have strained relationships with their adult children. Adrienne, the heroine, is taking care of an inn for her friend and Paul, the hero, is in town because he's being sued. Much like Message in a Bottle, there are few or no uplifting parts to balance out the tragedy, so it doesn't leave you feeling better about humanity. It also suffers from serious pacing issues. I don't recommend it.

Dear John (2010)

Okay, so this is one of two that I had to watch specifically for this post, because I hadn't seen it yet. Because based on what I knew of the plot, I thought I wouldn't like it. Oh, my God, this was a terrible movie. So, yeah, the plot is that John is a soldier and he falls in love with Savannah, who agrees to wait for him, and they write letters. But then 9/11 happens and he re-enlists and she starts to get understandably antsy, until ultimately she sends him the dreaded break-up letter. Aside from the fact that there is nothing about that core plot that appeals to me, I just didn't feel any sort of romantic vibe from this movie. John and Savannah have little chemistry to speak of, so I had trouble buying their relationship to begin with. Couple that with very serious pacing issues, selfish decisions, and a total lack of an ending, and I'm left wondering why on earth people like this movie. I really don't recommend this one.

The Last Song (2010)

This was the other one that I had to watch for the first time in order to write this post, and I expected to like it less than Dear John. You know what though? It's not that bad. No, I mean, it's flawed. Miley Cyrus is not a great actress, and she's not right for the part, and her speaking voice is extremely grating. I could buy her as a snotty teenager, but I had trouble cheering her on as a romantic lead. Nevertheless, the story kind of got to me. I could really appreciate the character development and the relationship development between Ronnie, our erstwhile heroine, and everyone else in the movie--from her father, to little brother, to her boyfriend Will. I found myself imagining the story with someone else in Miley's place, and I'm forced to say that I like it a lot. So, would I recommend it? Yeah, actually, I would--if you like that kind of thing.

The Lucky One (2012)

I won't say much about this one, since I already talked about it when it came out and you can read my thoughts here. I did like this one. It's not the most profound, and Zach Efron is just okay as an actor, but it's a more complete and appealing story than, say, Dear John.

I haven't yet made plans to see Safe Haven, which came out on Valentines Day, but I'm sure I will eventually. This is one of those odd fascinations that I feel compelled to see through. But that's it for now, folks. Go watch a good movie, share your comments, and have a happy day!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Blog Tour Review: Purgatory Reign by L.M. Preston

Purgatory ReignToday the blog tour for Purgatory Reign stops here! Let's dive right into the review, shall we?

The story follows Peter Saint, an orphan with some unusual talents, who is on the run from an evil organization. He's not alone, soon being joined by scruffy Angel, a small kid with surprising fighting skills and lots of secrets. The two try to find sanctuary while attempting to unravel the mystery of two opposing organizations, the power they wield, and what exactly they want with Peter and Angel.

The is a good, tense, action driven urban fantasy. There's violence, magic, car chases, and mystery layered on thick. It's never boring, and that's very important.

I liked all of the characters a great deal. I found Peter an interesting mix of honorable rule breaker and survivor. I liked Angel a lot as well. I felt like their relationship  developed a bit too quickly, and I was frustrated by the lightning jump from dislike to implicit trust, but that's a common sin in books and I can't complain too much.

My other primary frustration with this book was the style of the world building, which uses a lot of withholding to keep the story mysterious. Personally, I prefer to have the rules of the world and what is going on in it laid out early in the story. I like to know who the players are and what the stakes might be, so I can focus on the action within the plot. That's not to say that the world building isn't intriguing, because it is. The villains are scary, the settings are creepy, and the magic sufficiently believable. The fact that I prefer my explanations clear and early in the story is a matter of personal preference.

To conclude, this book is worth a read if your a fan of urban fantasy steeped in religious/magical history. The pace is snappy, there's plenty of action, and the end will not disappoint you. 3.5 stars.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Misc. Monday: Romance Reading as an Experience

Pushing the Limits (Pushing the Limits, #1)Earlier this month, Sunita wrote an opinion article posted on Dear Author that I found very thought provoking. She talked about the use of the word "escapism" in reference to romance novels, and the fact that it is all to often used in a derogatory sense. When a romance reader uses the term, she means something very different from what the anti-romance critic means. I know that I've used the term, but I don't think I fully considered what I meant when I said it. That's why I thought I had to talk about my romance reading experiences in a fresh light.

The Duchess War (Brothers Sinister, #1)The term "escapism" implies that we want to escape from something, from a reality that we find unpleasant (or at the very least boring). In the case of the romance reader, the implication is that the reader is unsatisfied with her life and, in particular, her relationship(s). In other words, we're all lonely cat ladies or trapped in sexless relationships, and so we choose romance because it fills in the gap for us. This generalization is full of as much inaccuracy as it is condescension and pity. Allow me to use myself as an example. I'm a happy, optimistic person. I'm married to a man that I fell in love with seven years ago, who still makes me smile. I get kisses and penguins and milkshakes and back rubs.  I'm very satisfied in that aspect of my life. Like other people, I get tired, I get bored, I have problems and frustrations. Reading is one way that I comfort myself, but it's not the only way. And comfort is also not the only reason that I read. I don't read because I'm unhappy, but rather for a complex set of reasons that changes every time I pick up a new novel

More than anything, I read to experience. One of the reasons that I often choose fantasy and paranormal books is because it allows me to experience new and unusual things that I will never get to experience firsthand. I will never meet a vampire or fight a dragon, and in reality I probably wouldn't want to. But experiencing them through a book is a rush, in a way. People that read horror and murder mysteries don't necessarily want to see gore in real life, and likely never will, but they do like to experience those things in book form. In books, no experience is barred to us, good or bad.

So, why would I turn to romance novels to experience love if I experience plenty of it in real life? The easy answer is: Because it's not the same thing. And it isn't. No two relationships are alike, in much the same way that no two people are alike. Every love story is different, because every (good) author writes original characters with well established personalities who fall in love in a different way from the way I found happiness.

Sea Swept (Chesapeake Bay Saga, #1)Look, I would never want a dominate, possessive alpha-male as my partner, because I personally wouldn't function well in that type of relationship. But in the context of a book, I get to experience him in a way, by getting inside the mind and heart of a heroine who can appreciate and love him. I don't want to marry a cowboy and have eight babies with him. I don't want to be kidnapped and ravaged by pirates. I don't want a millionaire doctor with no time for me, or a poor small town boy who runs a struggling business. But somewhere out there, there  are books with  heroines who love horses and babies, or long for hot sweaty pirate sex, or are already rich anyhow. Or whatever. I become invested in her quest for romantic happiness, and it's fulfillment is one of the primary things I'm after when I read romance.

Lover Awakened (Black Dagger Brotherhood, #3)It's probably easy to understand why one would want to read about happiness, but that isn't all there is to romance. It has a dark side, sometimes an extremely dark side, which is less well understood. Granted, some readers stay away from the gritty stuff, but I honestly love it. What I love about J.R. Ward, for example, is that she's very good an beating the crap out of her hero and heroine, both emotionally and physically, before allowing them to find happiness. Hell, her best novel has rape, slavery, beating and mutilation, and the heroine is kidnapped and tortured--has her eyes sewn shut, in the first half alone. It's a rough, dark book that I love, beyond reason. Why? If readers read to experience, why would anyone want to experience all of that pain? I will admit openly that this is still something I'm learning, about myself and books in general. There's a cathartic quality that comes with watching characters have all of the worst possible things happen to them and nevertheless find bliss.

I'll conclude with the simple thought: Romance readers, whatever our faults, are not purely escapists. Rather, I believe the we're more than commonly open to new emotional experiences.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

On Photojournalism: A Review of Fair Haven by JoAnn Ross

Fair HavenI originally read this book years ago, when i was thirteen or fourteen and just discovering romance novels. I remembered a few things about it--that it talked a bit about The Troubles in Ireland, that it involved the hero taking in a daughter that he never knew he had, and that the heroine was a doctor. If that seems like a good set up, you can imagine why I wanted to reread it.

 Michael was a photojournalist who traveled to some seriously rough areas to document war and human suffering. He's hung up his camera to return to a quiet life of farming, when an old woman arrives on his doorstep with an eight year old girl that she claims is Michael's daughter. Michael takes her in fairly willingly, and is soon charmed by her bright imagination. Erin, our heroine, comes to town to take over as the local doctor for a friend who is dying.

One of the things that I forgot about this book, and this author's work in general, is her willingness to include the possibility of a little supernatural, a few quiet miracles, in her otherwise purely contemporary work. Nora Roberts often does something very similar. She has ghosts that show up and talk to people, and no one really makes a fuss about it. The children talk of guardian angels and magical creatures with a conviction that they must be real. I find it an interesting way to add depth to the story.

I had also forgotten how emotional this book is. The dying doctor, for example, I had forgotten entirely. Then there's a conflict in which Shea, Michael's daughter, appears to be suffering from seizures with unknown causes. Michael's attachment to Shae is probably the sweetest part of the book. He's a wonderfully loyal and caring father.

The romance itself is passable. It's sweet and hot when it needs to be, but it gets pushed aside for the other conflicts fairly often. I found their individual character development more engaging than their relationship development, so it sort of fails that way.

In any case, I liked many aspects of this book, the second time around as well as the first. It's worth reading if you like contemporary books with an Irish country setting. 4 stars.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

On Lunars: A Review of Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

Scarlet (Lunar Chronicles, #2)Cinder was my favorite book of 2013. I loved the sci-fi world, loved the very original style of fairy tale retelling. I was beyond eager to read Scarlet, and the bar was set very high.

This book alternates focus alternates between Cinder and the newly introduced Scarlet. Scarlet's grandmother has been taken by a mysterious gang, who believe she knows something about the Princess Selene. Scarlet is determined to get her back, so when former gang member Wolf offers to lead her to them, she goes with him willingly. Meanwhile, Cinder must escape from prison with Thorne,  a fellow convict who offers her a way out on his spaceship. She must decide where to go first--to Africa to find the doctor who provided her means of escape, or to find Scarlet's grandmother, who might have answers about the past Cinder can't remember.

What I liked about the first book, I continued to love about the second. The world building is brilliant, fun, and easy to immerse yourself in. It's the kind of science fiction that would appeal to readers that don't normally like science fiction. It's very accessible.

Cinder is an appealing character, with her intelligence, guts, and unusual skill set. In this book her Lunar powers start to grow in ways that even she doesn't fully understand. Thorne is a fun addition, sort of a wannabe bad boy with a great sense of humor. He and Cinder have great report, and they're entertaining, although I became nervous that the author would try to make him the third point in a love triangle. Please, God, no. But, as of now, that's not the case. Scarlet, meanwhile, is a farm girl with no remarkable talents to speak of. She's likeable, though, because of her determination to find her grandmother and her willingness to see Wolf's best side. I liked Wolf, a lot. He's less predictable than the other characters, in both personality and nature. I found myself very curious about what he actually is, as well as what his motivations were.

One of my disappointments with this book was how little time we spent with Emperor Kai. We mostly just experience his stress over ruling and dealing with Queen Levina, plus his conflicted feelings for Cinder. Not a lot in terms of insight or character development.

But the main issue with this story is the fact that the larger arc of the story does not progress as much as it could have. That's not to say that nothing happens, but...not as much as I would have though or liked. I got the impression that the big action was being saved for future books, and that this is just a bridge book. That's fine, I guess, I just wanted more--I'm greedy like that.

It's a very good, very entertaining book. It would never stand on it's own, and it raises more questions than it answers. However, I found it far above average in the page-turner category, and I highly recommend it. 4.5 stars.

Friday, February 15, 2013

On Stutters: A Review of The Duke and I by Julia Quinn

The Duke And I (Bridgertons, #1)I have been meaning to read Julia Quinn for awhile, and I mean a very long time. Every time I go to the book store I stare at the Julia Quinn section and wonder which one I'm supposed to read first. And then I picked up this one, which turns out to be the first in the Bridgerton series.

Daphney Bridgerton has been on the marriage market for longer than she'd like, and her well meaning mother is starting to get anxious and pushy. Meanwhile, Simon, newly arrived in London after a long absence, has sworn to never get married, and wants to avoid the ambitious mamas and their daughters at all costs. The two end up meeting by chance, and strike a bargain to pretend to be besotted with one another, Daphney so that she'll appear more desirable, and Simon so that he'll be left alone. But how will they handle in when the feelings start to become real?

Turns out, I love the way Julia Quinn writes. She's clever, light, and smooth--an excellent story teller. Her characters are fun, interesting, a distinct from one another, despite the fact that they are many. She managed to make me connect with the characters, particularly Simon, in a very short amount of time.

Simon's main hang up is that he stuttered when he was young, stuttered a lot. His father, something of an asshat, declared him an idiot because of it. He's never managed to get past that, and that's why he doesn't want to get married and start a family. It's a really good conflict, yes? Watching him fall in love with Daphne despite himself is highly rewarding. I also appreciated the fact that Daphney is no shrinking violet when it comes to going after what she wants. They make a charming pair, which of course is the formula for a good romance.

I struggled to rate this book because I enjoyed it so very, very much. Except for one thing. And I sort of thought I could ignore it, but it's a big thing. So I can't. I won't would rather not spoil it either, so let me just say this: Daphney does something to take advantage of a situation with Simon that was very, very unfair way. If you read it, you'll know it when you see it. And, you know, people make mistakes and bad choices, so I was willing to forgive it. But I felt that she should owe him a serious, serious apology. Well, that never really happens. The focus is on all what he did wrong and how he's going to change. I was forced, for this reason, to knock a full star off what could very well have been a five star book.

Don't let that one negative thing stop you, though. This is a very good historical romance, the perfect start to a series, and well worth your time. 4 stars.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Watch This! Top Ten Best Romances in the Disney Universe

Disney movies. They are so iconic and so deeply imbedded in our culture that they are often the first stories children are exposed to. To extend that thought, they are probably the first love stories most of us are exposed to. Now, I'm not saying that's a great thing. It's a point of fact that Disney treats love in the most sanitized, watered-down, and in some cases slightly sexist manner possible. But they exist, and they are romance, so we have to talk about them. Because I say so.

Having said all of that, you might imagine that this "Best" list is more of a "Least Awful" list, but...that's mostly not true. Mostly.

#10: Sleeping Beauty (1959)

This is one that I've only seen a handful of times, and I actually had to rewatch it closely to decide if it really belonged on this list. It made it by virtue of the fact that it's not only intentionally a romance, but the romance actually has some (some, not a lot) set up and pay off. The set up is that Phillip and Aurora are promised to each other upon Aurora's birth. Aurora is cursed and then hidden away as a peasant girl, under the name Briar Rose. Sixteen years later, Phillip meets and unknowingly falls in love with Briar Rose. It's love at first sight and there's not much conversation, but there is a big battle with a dragon, and that's romantic, right? Right.

#9:Cinderella (1950)

You know, Cinderella gets a lot of bad press. I'll own to the fact that Sleeping Beauty deserves its reputation as one of the least pro-feminist stories of all time--the heroine literally does nothing except fall asleep. Cinderella though? She's just a sad, lonely, and frankly very patient girl who would like to go to a dance. And then she does. Good for her. Do I buy that she instantly falls in love with the prince and he's so enamored with her in return that he upends the kingdom trying to find her--after one dance and presumably a little conversation? Well no, not by real world standards, but it the logic of the 1950s Disney universe it's fine. I always imagined an epilogue to this story where the prince (Jesus, he doesn't even have a name) and Cinderella have to talk and come to terms with this insane attraction between them, and the ramifications of marrying outside their social standings, and they make it work in the end. That's how I justify the story to myself.

#8: Tarzan (1999)

This is one of those Disney movies I always tend to forget about, until I look at a list and I'm reminded--oh, yeah, Disney did Tarzan. I think it's because when it came out, I was at that weird age where I thought I was too old for children's movies and I didn't yet appreciate the idea that adults can enjoy them, too, and so I didn't see it until long after it came out. But I do like it. And, of course, it's on this list because of Tarzan and Jane, who are surprisingly sweet together. I put it low on the list because I've always felt that the chemistry between them is based largely on the fact that Jane is literally the first and only human woman Tarzan has ever encountered, and that kind of circumstantial togetherness is always a bit unsettling to me. Outside of that context, would they even like each other? I don't know, but it is an interesting story for all it's flaws.

#7: Lady and the Tramp (1955)

Why, yes, I did put non-humans on the list. Judge me if you will, but watch this movie and tell me it's not adorable. Go ahead. Yeah, I thought so. Lady and the Tramp is a classic opposites attract tale about a hero who shuns the idea of a home and a heroine who dearly loves hers. They go on adventures and have a little tryst, and eventually a happy ending. The spaghetti scene alone earns it a spot on the list (incidentally, eating pasta that way is far less romantic in reality).  And I'm pretty sure there's a secret baby plot in there too.

#6: The Little Mermaid (1989)

I struggled quite a bit with where to put this on the list because, truth be tole, this is probably my second or third favorite Disney movie of all time. But in terms of how well it works as a romance? It's pretty shallow, at least initially. Ariel's impulsive and obsessive need to be with Eric is based entirely on appearance. Any attraction Eric feels for Ariel is based on her pretty, pretty voice. This is all redeemed when they end up spending time together while she can't talk, and it becomes apparent that they have a legitimate connection.

#5: The Princess and the Frog (2009)

This might actually count at my second non-human romance on the list, since they spend the majority of the movie as frogs. This is a movie about working hard to achieve goals while not ignoring the importance of finding love. It's actually quite heavy handed with that message, but it's not necessarily a terrible thing. I like the adventure and the time that Tiana and Nevine share, and I like that they both work for their happy ending.    

#4: Aladdin (1992)

This is likely the most "boy oriented" movie on the list, but it nevertheless counts as a romance. Pretty much everything Aladdin does is motivated by a desire to get the girl. It's yet another case of two people who like each other regardless of social rank, and it addresses the issue more effectively than most. I like that Jasmine, despite not being at the center of the action, is not a wilting flower and does, in fact, display a mind of her own. It also happens to have one of the most memorable and romantic love songs in the Disney universe.

#3: Tangled (2010)

This movie is one of the most watchable, fun children's movies I've seen this decade. And, although the romance isn't necessarily the main point, it's there and it's spectacular. Flynn and Rapunzel get to know each other over their journey (witness, Flynn telling Rapunzel his real name), they fall in love, and they make huge sacrifices for each other. It's cute and funny when it needs to be, serious at other times, and everything comes together to make a very satisfying story.

#2: Up (2009)

Am I cheating with this one? Hell yes, I am. Up is decidedly not a romance, at least most of the movie isn't. But the first ten minutes or so? Oh God. Two people meet as children, become friends, fall in love, and share a big dream that they never quite get to realizing. But they have a life together, and they're mostly happy despite some huge disappointments. I cannot watch this part of the movie without crying. Everything that's happens after that point is motivated largely by that relationship and those dreams, so I actually think it is fair game to count it on this list. It's brilliant, and a testament to the principle that a simple love story is often the best.

#1: Beauty and the Beast (1991)

If you've been following this blog for awhile, this one probably doesn't surprise you. This is my very favorite Disney movie, and it likely ranks in my top 10 favorite movies of all time. But do I really think it's the most romantic? Absolutely, I do. It's a story about getting to know someone on a deeper level, and loving them based on an emotional connection rather than physical appearance. The Beast has to learn to be a decent person, and Bell only comes around to him after he figures out that he needs to treat her properly. It's pretty much a perfect movie in my mind, and I can't say enough about it.

So that's the list, folks. Feel free to agree and disagree with me in the comments. Have a romance-filled day.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

On Control: A Review of The One That Got Away by Kelly Hunter

The One That Got AwayHarlequin's new Kiss line looked to be full of happy, fun, light, sensual romance. I bought all of them. This book is not as light or fun as the cover makes it appear, but it is pretty good.

So, let's jump right in. Ten years ago, Logan and Evie spent an intense week together in London. Now, Evie has unknowingly agreed to a marriage of convenience with Logan's younger brother, Max. Seeing Evie again brings back a lot of feelings for Logan, including the shame and guilt that he felt after hurting and then leaving her at the end of their week.

Logan is naturally dominant, and Evie enjoys a little sexual submission. During their week together, they took things a bit too far, and Logan didn't like the fact that he could lose control so easily. It's a good conflict, and it makes for really interesting character development...It's just not what you'd expect based on the marketing. The sex scenes are still relatively non-graphic, although Logan and Evie have excellent chemistry.

Logan is brooding and sexy. Evie is smart and determined, with an interesting career. Overall, there's nothing not to like here. The only problem I had with this book, aside from the obvious false advertising of the cover, is the occasional moments of melodrama. It isn't as bad as I've seen in some books, but it's there.

My recommendation is that, having been warned of the darker-than expected plot, if you are still intrigued and looking for a quick, sensuous romance, this is a good choice. 3.5 stars.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Misc. Monday: Top Ten Romance Authors on RtP

Developing a list of the ten most highly rated and reviewed authors on this blog was something of an educational experience. It was fun to look back on the books that I've read and reread over the last year and a half. I initially composed this list with pure mathematics--by adding up positive star ratings on a spreadsheet. I then made some readjustments based on how re-readable I find the author's work and how likely I am to read more of their work in the future.

This being a purely romance list forced me to leave off a lot of authors who write in other genres. A top list of authors with no genre restrictions would be a very different list indeed.

#10: Julie Anne Long

Julie Anne LongCumulative RtP Star Rating: 11.5

Reviewed Works: The Perils of Pleasure, Like No Other Lover, Since the Surrender, I Kissed an Earl, What I Did for a Duke

What Make Her Awesome: Julie Anne Long writes the Pennyroyal Green series, a which centers around a small English town with two feuding families. I didn't really care for the first book of the series, finding it mediocre and boring. But then, magically, as I tried more of her work, I discovered that she has a talent for writing a different, unique, and engaging story for each character. You never know exactly what you're going to get, but you know it's likely to be good. Visit Her Website:

#9: Jolene Perry 

Jolene PerryCumulative RtP Star Rating: 12

Reviewed Works: Night Sky, Knee Deep, The Next Door Boys

What Makes Her Awesome: Jolene Perry writes deeply thoughtful contemporary YA and New Adult romance. I was first introduced to her work when I was asked to read Night Sky for a blog tour, and it turned out to be one of my favorite books of 2012.  I like that she writes nice, well rounded teenagers that occasionally find themselves in rough (really rough) situations, and that they deal with them realistically. Visit Her Website:

#8: Karina Bliss

Karina BlissCumulative  RtP Star Rating: 12.5

Reviewed Works: Here Comes the Groom, Stand-In Wife, Bring Him Home, What the Librarian Did

What Makes Her Awesome: Karina Bliss writes Harlequin Superomance, dramatic and heart-wrenching stories set in contemporary New Zealand. Her Special Forces series, which begins with Here Comes the Groom, is particularly enjoyable. The heroes are soldiers trying to put their lives back together after their war experiences. Visit Her Website:


#7: Nalini Singh

Nalini SinghCumulative RtP Star Rating: 16

Reviewed Works: Angel's Blood, Archangel's Kiss, Archangel's Consort, Archangel's Blade, Archangel's Storm

What Makes Her Awesome: When I first encountered Nalini Singh's Psy/Changeling series, I was really unimpressed. Her other series, though, is purely fantastic. The Guild Hunter series is gripping, elegant, deeply addictive paranormal romance. It blends horror, fantasy, and pure love stories in as seamless a manner as I've seen. Visit Her Website:

#6: Gena Showalter

Gena ShowalterCumulative RtP Star Rating: 18.5

Reviewed Works: The Darkest Night, The Darkest Kiss, The Darkest Pleasure, The Darkest Whisper, The Darkest Passion, The Darkest Lie, The Darkest Secret

What Makes Her Awesome: Until compiling this list, I had actually forgotten how very awesome I found these books. I was so fed up and disappointed by two or three of her books, that I actually stopped reading her altogether. Her place on this list, though, makes me think that I really ought to give her another shot. Her books are dark and sexy and worth at least a try.

#5: Courtney Milan

Courtney MilanCumulative RtP Star Rating: 22

Reviewed Works: Unlocked, Unveiled, Unclaimed, Unraveled, The Duchess War

What Makes Her Awesome: Courtney Milan writes historical romance in a completely unique way. She writes heroines that you can like and respect, and deliciously unusual heroes that you fall in love with. No cookie cutter characters for her. Visit Her Website:

#4: Nora Roberts

Nora RobertsCumulative RtP Star Rating: 18

Reviewed Works: Sea Swept, Rising Tides, Inner Harbor, Chesapeake Blue

What Makes Her Awesome: Math put this amazing author lower on the list, but that's purely because I read so many of her works prior to this blog, and although I've talked about them, I've never formally reviewed them. So, I bumped her up a bit. Nora Roberts writes amazing contemporary romance with some of the best male characters around.  Visit Her Website:

#3: Larissa Ione

Larissa IoneCumulative RtP Star Rating: 28.5

Reviewed Works: Pleasure Unbound, Passion Unleashed, Desire Unchained, Ecstasy Unveiled, Sin Undone, Eternal Rider, Immortal Rider, Lethal Rider

What Makes Her Awesome: Larissa Ione writes dark, sexy paranormal books that I always enjoy in a purely guilty sort of way. I love the demons and the visits to hell and all of the characters with their possibly evil dark sides. All around good, creepy fun. Visit Her Website:

#2: Kresley Cole

Kresley ColeCumulative RtP Star Rating: 30

Reviewed Works:  A Hunger Like No Other, No Rest For the Wicked, Wicked Deeds on a Winter's Night, Dark Desires After Dusk, Dark Needs at Night's Edge, Kiss of a Demon King, Deep Kiss of Winter, Pleasure of a Dark Prince, Demon From the Dark, Dreams of a Dark Warrior, The Poison Princess

What Makes Her Awesome: Kresley Cole's writing has a brilliant, light funniness that somehow does not detract from the sexiness of her stories. He heroines are strong and independent and her heroes are fierce, scary monsters. I can't help but look forward to her books, even after a few let me down. Visit Her Website: 

#1: Lisa Kleypas

Lisa Kleypas  Cumulative RtP Star Rating: 38

Reviewed Works: Secrets of a Summer Night, It Happened One Autumn, The Devil In Winter, Scandal in Spring, Mine Til Midnight, Seduce Me at Sunrise, Tempt Me at Twilight, Married by Morning, Love in the Afternoon

What Makes Her Awesome: At first, her position in the number one spot on this list probably seems surprising. I haven't talked about Lisa Kleypas as loudly or as often as some of the authors lower on the list. But, in fact, Kleypas is responsible for sparking my interest in historical romance, when before I stuck almost entirely to PNR with the occasional contemporary thrown in. She can make a dull setting and situation funny, and her characters are as charming as you could ask for. Visit Her Website: 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

On Movie Making: A Review of A Woman's Heart by JoAnn Ross

A Woman's Heart (Irish Castlelough Trilogy, #1)Today seems like a good day to visit Ireland. Here we meet Nora Fitzpatrick, a widow who runs a farm and a large family. She somewhat reluctantly rents a room in her own out to Quinn, a writer who has come to help work on a film that's being made in the town. Quinn is a loner, and normally resistant to all things hearth and home, but he finds himself drawn into involvement with the lives of the family, and very attracted to Nora herself.

The town and the characters are charming enough. I really liked Nora's family, although some of the children stray into plot moppet territory a time or two. I thought Quinn was very sweet with them. So sweet, in fact, that I had trouble buying the idea that he's a loner who has never experienced or wanted love.

Nora and Quinn work well as a couple, though I found nothing particularly remarkable or memorable about there dialogue, sexual chemistry, or the story of how they end up together. The book is held back by a bland safeness and predictability. It's a comfortable romance, but not one that's likely to stick with me

One thing I did really enjoy was the casual acceptance of the possibility of magic and fantastical creatures. Not so much as to make this a PNR, but enough to lend the setting a mysterious kind of quality. I'd be willing to read more of the trilogy because of the setting alone.

Overall, I wasn't overly impressed by this novel, but I also wasn't terribly annoyed or disappointed in it. If you like quiet contemporary romance in an Irish setting, you could do worse. 3 stars.
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