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Title Tattle

Title Tattle

Friday, November 30, 2012
Posted in: willaful

 

I’m just finishing up The Soldier by Grace Burrowes. It’s well named: the hero is not only a former soldier suffering from PTSD, but he’s been “soldiering on” for most of his life.  Other books in this family series follow that same naming trend. There’s The Heir, about the responsible brother, and The Virtuoso — I haven’t read that one yet, so I don’t know if it has any metaphorical meaning, but I wouldn’t be surprised. In a field in which generic titles abound, it’s cool to see a series with titles that say something about the main characters and their roles in life.

Wait a minute though… those are all the book about the sons of the family. There are also five daughters. And what are their titles? Lady Sophie’s Christmas Wish. Lady Eve’s Indiscretion. Lady Louisa’s Christmas Knight.  And Lady Maggie’s Secret Scandal. (What does that even mean? How can you have a secret scandal?) The final (?) book will be called Lady Jenny’s Christmas Portrait.

Five Ladies. Three Christmases. A multitude of meaningless Historical romance novel buzz words. These aren’t the most pointless, generic, pandering titles I’ve ever seen — I think that honor would have to go to Lady Amelia’s Mess and a Half — but it’s damn close.  I haven’t read any of these books yet, so I don’t know if I can expect the author’s usual straightforward, intimate style or if she’s had to cutesify it up to go with the titles. God, I hope not.

Willaful Review: Restraint by Charlotte Stein

Sensuality Rating: Blistering

I’m so glad I loved this, because now I don’t have to feel bad about the fact that I bought it — after the CyberMonday sales! — and then discovered I had just checked it out of the library. (I know, I know, it was only $.99 — but I have bought a serious number of books in the last few days!)

This is the second Charlotte Stein book in a row I’ve given a five star rating, but it’s very different from Deep Desires — probably the only thing they have in common is they’re both narrated in the first person by women. Our narrator here is Mallory, a sharp, funny young woman whose observations often had me laughing, as she tells the story of how her friend James ruined their vacation plans by inviting her worst enemy Artie. For some unknown reason, Artie just seems to loath her.

“He looked at you weird one time. He probably had something in his eye!”

“Yeah, I think it’s called ‘extreme contempt.'”

Things come to a head one night when Mallory and Artie wind up in a hot tub together.

It’s beautiful, and the air is crisp and just a little cold… Nothing could be lovelier. So why doesn’t he look like it’s lovely at all? All he does is stare off at some indeterminate point, as though some indeterminate point annoys him an incredible amount. I can even make out that little frown-y crinkle between his brows, because of course the trees are such a pain in the ass. The softly falling night is such an inconvenience.

When Mallory attempts to clear the air between them, Artie responds so nastily that she can’t help crying… which sends him into a frantic apology and an unexpected, very heated embrace.  And Mallory discovers that Artie has a very proper past, including a stint in Bible college, and that his unpleasantness has been hiding a painfully repressed fascination.

“Are you really going to make me say it?” he asks, and it’s like I’m being cruel. He sounds almost tortured now, and that hand in his hair is making a fist – but I still can’t help him. Even after he’s said the words, I’m at a loss. “You know. Your bosom.”

I wonder if that Bible college he went to was in 1955.

It takes some work to get Artie to let go… and both of them enjoy it thoroughly. I did too. I love large heroes and Artie is described in such a way that you know he really is large all over, not just the typical massive shoulders-trim waist-hung you get in virtually every romance.  And that cool, quiet demeanor that hides seething desires… woof!

This is a fairly short story and takes place within just a week’s time, so it’s not a full fledged romance ending with wedding bells. But the ending feels happy and right.

Restraint is available only in ebook format. You can buy it from Amazon here, Barnes and Noble here, or at All Romance here. All currently offer it for $.99.

Published by Xcite. Review copy purchased by me.

Give and Take

Give and Take

Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Posted in: willaful

 

I was thinking about an argument I had at “All About Romance,” regarding Cecilia Grant’s “difficult heroines.”  Someone argued that Grant’s heroines, especially Martha of A Lady Awakened, are too difficult to appeal to men.  I disagreed, based on what I wrote in my review:

“Serious, conscientious, and seeking her opinion: he could have had anything he wanted of her in that moment. She pressed her lips together. Generosity demanded generosity in return. ‘Think on it. Sleep on it. You’ll make the right choice.’

“She felt his pleasure as surely as though his skin was shuddering against hers. He was all but a virgin in this, the experience of being taken seriously. Perhaps no woman–no one at all–had ever gazed at him with quiet faith and encouraged him to believe in his own abilities.”

I love the emotional symmetry here: Martha, who needs so much to be taken seriously by men herself, discovering that this is something she can give to a man, who needs it as much as she does. That realization of the possibility of reciprocity between a couple, sexually and emotionally, is Martha’s true awakening.

The other poster found this ridiculous as a reason to fall in love; I’m guessing it didn’t make sense to her because she didn’t feel chemistry between the characters. Fair enough — that’s something that works for you or doesn’t.

But I don’t see how you can truly appreciate the romance genre without appreciating the reciprocity model.  It’s so essential, especially when one or both characters are damaged, that they provide something that can’t be found with anyone else.  (Or if you must be cynical, has never yet been found.)

I started The Portrait by Megan Chance mainly out of curiosity about how the romance could be made to work: it’s a historical romance about a man with bi-polar disorder. A magical cure would be a serious let down, but how could there be a true happy ending? Through that reciprocity: the heroine loves him, and deals with his issues, because he’s the only person who’s ever seen how special she is.

Thinking about this gave me a new insight into the “gently used” paranormal heroine I wrote about a while ago: perhaps that’s the only (or best or favorite) equalization the authors could give their couples. If a heroine is a fighter, manly protectiveness isn’t going to be enough (though invariably the hero has that coming out the wazoo as well).  Modern paranormal heroines are expected to be tough and capable, so being sexually unfulfilled is one way to make them fragile. I still dislike it in large doses — I’m not crazy about fragility as a heroine trait in almost any form, and in this form it’s got a lot of baggage — but I understand it better now.

There Are Some Weird Mother Effers Out There...


Thanks to Mad for this graphic, love it, haha!

There’s a bird on Twitter who I used to follow, because she was a fellow Scandal fan. Then I realised that she was nutty as a fruitcake.

She’s majorly obsessed with Tony Goldwyn, one of the main guys on Scandal. He played the bloke who organised for Patrick Swayze’s character in Ghost, to be killed. But this isn’t actually what makes her a total loony (even though she refers to him like he’s her personal property, and she cussed Kerry Washington out on Twitter because her character in Scandal was mean to Tony Goldwyn’s character – it’s tres embarrassing actually) no, what makes her just a bit nuttier than your average fruitcake is this vid:

The guy in the vid is a random bloke who she apparently walked past on a beach and took an instant shine to. She doesn’t know who he is, but she fancies herself in love with him. I’m pretty sure the poor guy didn’t even know that she was taking pics of him.

Now, this may be considered romantic in a movie, or even in a book, but in real life? It’s a more than a little cray-cray. Fucknut much? I can’t help but wonder what she would do if she found him one day, and discovered that he was happily married with children.

Don’t pretend you guys didn’t just think of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. *Shudder*.

Willaful Review: Seven Nights to Forever by Evangeline Collins

Sensuality Rating: Torrid

The premise of this grabbed me instantly: James, a wealthy merchant married to an aristocrat who despises him, miserably seeks out an evening with a kind woman in the only place he can think of to find one — a brothel.  He’s matched with Rose, a woman also trapped by ugly circumstances —  her public persona is a quiet life running her family’s country estate, but for one week each month, she works as a high paid prostitute to support her feckless younger brother. That one night with Rose happens to be on her first night, and stretches into another, and another… but what will happen on the seventh night?

The book is marketed as sexy, and it is, but it doesn’t rush straight into bedroom antics. The sensitive and highly principled James finds it difficult to pay for sex or to commit adultery, despite the fact that his wife sleeps with everyone but him. Rose is caught off guard by his considerate behavior and trustworthy demeanor, and can’t stay detached from their encounter.  Their first night is spent in nothing but conversation, but leaves both of them craving more.

The rest of the story is about each of them carefully feeling out the boundaries of this difficult relationship. James wants nothing from Rose that isn’t freely given, but it’s hard for her to forget that he’s paid for her time or to believe she has real choices with him: “The word yes flowed so smoothly off her tongue that it had been difficult to get that no out.”  And sometimes it’s hard for James to forget that Rose is a professional. There’s some pain and hurt feelings along the way, but also a joy in each other that finally gives them both the strength to fight their way out of their impossible situations, and find a happy ending.

You wouldn’t think a hot affair between a married man and a prostitute would make a sweet story, but strong, sensible, desolate James and beautiful, charming, lost Rose are very lovable and essentially good people.  I felt both were too prone to make martyrs of themselves, but at least they do come to realize this. Filled with powerful yearning, this was a very touching story; I give it four stars.  It can be bought in trade paperback or for Kindle here or for Nook here.

Published by Berkeley Sensation. Review copy won from a blog contest.

I Know I'm A Little Late But....OBAMA WON, WOOOHOOO!!!

Because I tweet so much, I have to admit, I do forget to update the blog for months on end, thank God for Willaful and AztecLady.

Anyhoo, those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that I’ve been fairly obsessed with the election this year, in a way that I wasn’t in 2008.
Back then I thought McCain was a shoe-in, even though he seemed older than Methuselah, (before he picked that right-wing nut as running partner), I just didn’t believe that Obama could do it, but anyway, we all know what happened on that particular November night.

Roll on to 2012, and I found myself totally involved with an election that probably wouldn’t directly affect me or mine.

The Romney campaign annoyed the crap outta me. His pick for running mate annoyed the crap outta me, but the most annoying thing about this election cycle was the GOP talking heads. They all seemed to be drinking from the same crazy juice fountain. Senators talking about legitimate rape, all that crap about how babies from rape was a gift from God, seriously, what is up with some Republicans people?

Anyway, the important thing is that despite all the polls telling us that this was going to be a close election, (98% of Brits wanted an Obama win by the way) Obama won. And that people, is a very good thing. For America, and the rest of the world. Apart from Pakistan obviously:)

TBR Challenge: The Ultimate Betrayal by Michelle Reid

Sensuality rating: lightly steamy

Since I couldn’t start reading until Tuesday afternoon,  my pick for this month’s TBR challenge was deliberately as short as possible. It does fit the theme of a “hyped book” though, since I’ve heard it mentioned many times as someone’s favorite Harlequin or as a really different Harlequin.

It is indeed different in many ways, especially for the Presents line. The couple are already married and have three children — we don’t usually see so much domesticity in HPs, especially without any servants involved.  And the issue is a fairly common domestic one: Rachel has been busy with being a mother and less available; Daniel has been working late a lot and under a great deal of pressure. A nasty phone call from a so-called friend tips Rachel off that that’s not the only thing Daniel has been under.

Reid does a good job of making this the sort of angsty read Presents lovers adore, within that unusual framework.  The effect the news has on Rachel and the marriage is painful and believable. There’s a lot of fighting and bitterness. (And one very unusual aspect in a romance — although Rachel and Daniel continue to have sex, Rachel keeps freezing and being unable to have an orgasm.)  Rachel starts to believe that she’s too dependent and boring, and tries to explore some of the things she was interested in before she got pregnant and married at 17. And she tries a new look and flirts with another man.  In a different sort of book, that might all go somewhere and it’s rather disappointing that the story ends with Rachel and Daniel both content for her to continue as the Happy Homemaker without any outside interests.

I have mixed feelings about the way infidelity was handled in the story:

*SPOILERS* (more…)

New Book Alert.... Wrecked, By Shiloh Walker...

oh I’m such a sucker for Friends-to-Lovers stories, and this Shiloh Walker book due out in April, sounds especially good…

Blurb

In the nineties, Abigale Applegate and Zach Barnes were the most beloved sitcom child stars in the world. Then they grew up and left Hollywood behind…

Whatever happened to Abigale Applegate?

She’s been wondering the same thing.

With her Hollywood dreams long gone, Abigale now has a nice, neat, uncomplicated life—until the day her perfect fiancé needs to talk. Dumped, a little more than shattered, and totally confused, Abigale turns to Zach, her best friend since forever, to help her pick up the pieces. He does it with a gift—a copy of Wreck This Journal. She can vent her frustrations, and sketch out a new plan. Zach just hopes he’s part of it. Because he’s been in love with Abigale his entire life.

When the journal falls into Zach’s hands, he discovers Abigale wants a new man. And fast. Nothing more than a hot distraction. Zach has a strategy, too. He’s going to be that man. It’s his last chance. Abigale might be out to shake up her life, but Zach’s out to reinvent it. Now, all he has to do is convince Abigale that life can go as planned.

I think the blurb could definitely be improved upon, but I am all over the excerpt posted on Shiloh’s website:

Excerpt

Wine would have been a good idea, Abby thought.

Stretched out on her belly, she closed her eyes and tried to think about anything but the pain. Digging her nails into her palms, she tried to zone out.

“You okay?”

Zach’s hands on her weren’t helping her zone out, she decided. It was one hell of a distraction, but it wasn’t helping her zone out.

Swallowing the knot in her throat, she croaked out, “I’m as good as I think I can expect to be.”

“And how good is that?”

“Lousy.”

He laughed a little. “Why don’t you talk to me? We’re halfway done,” he said. “If you talk, you’ll get distracted and it will be done before you know it.”

“Okay.” She scrunched her eyes tightly closed and tried to think of something to say. Her mind was blank. “Shit. I don’t know what to talk about.”

“You always have something to talk about,” he teased, his voice low and easy and she knew even without looking at him that he was smiling.

“Not right now I don’t.” Well, she could think of a thing or two. But those things were really things she could say. Were they? No. She’d thought this through. She wasn’t going down that road with Zach.

“Okay. I’ll help. What is this new life plan you’ve got laid out? Besides the tattoo here?”

I plan on flipping my life upside down–

She bit her lip to keep from blurting that out. That would make him worry. She loved him dearly and she didn’t need him worrying about her right now. “It’s not a life plan exactly. It’s just a for-now plan,” she said slowly. “Some things to keep me distracted until I figure out what I’m going to do with myself. There’s the tattoo thing, which you’re obviously helping with. I’m going to try to stop worrying so much. One of them, though…I plan on calling up Roger and telling him off.”

He grunted. “Good plan.” Something soft brushed against her lower back and she hissed a little.

Damn it, that hurt. It felt like something was slicing right through her skin.

Distraction. Talk, damn it. About anything.

“I don’t get it,” she said softly, some of the confusion and pain breaking free. “I mean… I thought he loved me. How could he love me and walk away like that? Over the life I used to have? That’s what it’s all about. I used to be an actress. I’m not anymore—I haven’t been for years and I’m happy with that. How can he not see that? If he loved me, wouldn’t he be able to see that I don’t want to act anymore?”

Zach didn’t answer.

Turning her head, she peered over her shoulder at him.

He had his head bowed, the gold-streaked strands falling down and hiding his features from her.

“Zach?”

He sighed. “Do you really want to hear what I have to say about this right now, sugar?”

“I always want to hear what you have to say.”

“Okay.” He used the cloth again on her back and then bent down, staring at her skin like there was nothing else in the world but her back and the design he was inking onto her flesh. “He never loved you.”

It was a strike, square to her heart.

She closed her eyes.

“If he loved you, he wouldn’t treat you the way he did. When you walked into a room, it would have showed on his face…if he really loved you. Either he’d been so busy staring at you because he just had to see you, or he would have been looking away so nobody could see it. Except he was going to marry you–you were his and he had every right to let the world see how he felt.” Zach dabbed at her back again, still focused on the work.

She was almost glad of the pain now, because it was easier to think about how much it hurt than to think about what he had to say.

“But when you walked into a room, that f’ing prick was too busy either messing with his damned gadgets or looking at everybody else to see what they thought about you. He was in love with the idea of having Kate the cutie on his arm. But he never loved you.”

He paused what he doing and for a brief second, the world fell away as he looked up and met her eyes. “He never loved you, and the son of a bitch sure as hell didn’t deserve you, sugar.”

Her heart slammed against her ribs as his blue gaze held hers.

And then, as it felt like all the oxygen in the room had dwindled away, he turned his attention back to the task at hand.

It felt like he was flaying the flesh from her bones. And she decided that was just fine, because now she needed that distraction.

Was he right, she wondered? Had Roger ever loved her at all?

And more importantly…had she loved him?

“Okay, here are the important things,” Zach said as he studied the design. It was cute, sexy as hell and if he found out another guy was the one who got to press his lips to that dragonfly as where it curved low over the flare of her left hip, he thought he just might go insane. “I’ll send you home with some instructions on how to care for it, but you need to make sure you keep it clean. No scrubbing at it or anything–you need to be gentle when you wash it, but keep it clean. I’ve got some ointment I’ll send home with you and I’ll go into detail about using that, too.”

She was still staring at it over her shoulder in the mirror. Worrying her lower lip with her teeth and eying the dragonfly like she expected it to take flight or something.

“I need to get the bandage on,” he said softly.

“What? Oh.”

She continued to stand there and he reached up, pressed his hand between her shoulder blades. “Lean forward a little.”

Hunger screamed, jerking on the leash inside him as he eased the waistband of her skirt just a little lower so he could get the bandage in place. Bent over the table like that, he could so easily imagine pulling the hem of the skirt up. Slipping his hand between her thighs. Would she sigh? Moan?

No. This was Abby and she’d freak the hell out and then she’d run away and he’d lose her–

A soft, shaky sigh caught his attention as he smoothed the bandage down. Keeping his head bowed, he checked the mirror from under his lashes and his knees almost buckled.

Abby was staring at their reflection and her face was flushed.

What. The. Hell.

Abruptly, he stepped back and moved away. If he didn’t move away immediately, he was going to grab her and do things he never should do to his best friend. The woman he loved. That was the problem. He’d loved her for too long and he was misreading the signals and–

“Do you really think all that’s true? About Roger?”

Hearing that shithead’s name on her lips snapped his temper. He turned around and glared at her. “If I didn’t think that was the case, Abs, I wouldn’t have said it. He’s an egotistical, arrogant piece of work and he never loved you. You deserved a hell of a lot better and I knew it all along. But he was what you wanted so who in the hell was I to say any different?”

“You’re my best friend,” she said quietly.

“Shit.” He went to pass a hand over his face and stopped. He still had his gloves on. Stripping them off, he tossed them into the red trash can near the door and headed over start cleaning up. “Yes. I am. You asked me what I thought and I told you. But I can’t tell you what is in that fucker’s head. You can always ask him when you call him to tell him off, although I doubt he’ll tell you the truth. He doesn’t even see the truth anyway.”

“Have you ever been in love?”

In the middle of gathering up his supplies, he paused. Zach closed his eyes and started to mouth every single foul, nasty curse he could think of. He had four brothers. He could think of a lot of cuss words. Half way through one that involved anatomical improbabilities and a goat, a hand touched his shoulder.

“Zach?”

Damn it, he couldn’t do this. Moving away, he started grabbing shit at random. Dumping trash, slamming the tools here, there. Being careless with them, but he couldn’t look at her yet. If he did, she might see–

He went to dump the trash and turned around.

Abby was right there, dark brown eyes locked on his face, her shirt still knotted just under her breasts, leaving her belly bare.

“What is this?” she teased. “You make me play twenty questions all the time.”

Edging around her, he focused on cleaning up. “I’m thirty-two years old, Abby. Yeah. I’ve been in love,” he said, keeping his voice flat and his eyes on the task at hand. “It didn’t work out.”

“Why not?”

“She never seemed to notice that I was staring at her when she walked into the room.”

Yeah, she had me with that last line…

You can check out Shiloh Walker’s other books here, pre-order your copy from Amazon here, from Barnes & Noble here, and from The Book Depository, here.

Go fill your boots!

Willaful Review: Rogue Rider by Larissa Ione

Sensuality rating: Torrid

Traditionally, the last book in a romance series is about a fascinating character that we’ve seen in the previous books and are dying to read about. In this case, there’s a twist: Reseph is someone we’ve only seen in tiny snippets and though the memories of others. One of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, he’s spent the last three books ruled by an inner evil, Pestilence. As Pestilence, he caused vast misery in the world and committed vicious crimes against the members of his own family — the other three horsemen, and the heroes and heroines of the previous books — in an effort to force them to join him. Which of course made me even more eager to read his story and discover who Reseph really is, and how he’s going to redeem himself and reconnect with his family.

As the story opens, the world in general is trying to recover from the plagues, wars, and demon attacks Pestilence caused, and Jillian Cardiff in particular is trying to recover from a terrible attack that left her damaged inside and out. When she rescues a gorgeous naked man she finds in the snow, all of her protective mechanisms are challenged — including the voice of experience which tells her she has very bad instincts when it comes to men.

Amnesia is the perfect set-up for this book: it gives the powerful Reseph a touch of vulnerability, frees him from crippling guilt (temporarily, of course) and exposes his true self with no filters.  Tabula rasa Reseph is natural, playful, and lovable, happiest when he’s bouncing around stark naked or having sex. I liked Jillian a lot too, perhaps because Reseph always views her as strong rather than fragile. Their relationship is hot but also supportive, believable as the catalyst for Reseph to change and take responsibility for his actions.

Characterization was the strong point in this book, and pacing the weak. The first half drags a bit; the second has more compelling storytelling, but wastes some of its angst potential.  When you have a really powerful set-up for drama and then don’t use it… well, it may be different, but it’s also disappointing. The ending is strong though, and has a great set-up for the next book — which apparently will count as part of the “Demonica” series, rather than the “Lords of Deliverance.” (It doesn’t make a whole lot of difference — they’re extremely intertwined.)

My gut instinct rating for Rogue Rider is 3 1/2 stars, even though in many ways I really liked it. If you’ve enjoyed the rest of the series, you certainly won’t want to miss it. (I also thought while reading it that it could stand alone, but another reviewer who hadn’t read the previous books was very lost.)  You can order it from Amazon here or Barnes and Noble here.

Published by Grand Central. Reviewed from an e-arc provided by netGalley