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Northern Lights, by Nora Roberts

Northern Lights

I don’t think it’s a secret that I enjoy pretty much anything and everything that Ms Roberts writes—short stories, long novels, trilogies, series, mysteries… She writes it, sooner or later I’ll read it—and chances are I’ll review it too. Sometimes sooner, sometimes really later—as is the case now. Northern Lights was first published in hardcover back in 2004, and it has the uncomfortable distinction of being the only paperback edition of Ms Roberts’ work in the ohmahgawdsouncomfortable Venti edition*.

Set in the very small and *ahem* colorful fictional town of Lunacy, in Alaska, Northern Lights is a love story, a mystery, and the portrait of a community superficially reminiscent of Northern Exposure, full of eccentric characters in a setting that feels almost out of time.

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“Happy Ending”, by L. B. Gregg

Happy Ending

This charming love story is Ms Gregg’s second published work. Another m/m tale, “Happy Ending” is set in her Men of Springfield universe, with both stories loosely connected in setting and by the appearance as a secondary character of one of the protagonists of the first book, “Gobsmacked” (review here).

Before going further, I must add the following warning: minors and people who object to strong language and sexual content should avoid “Happy Ending”. Oh, and this story is considered erotica because of some graphic sexual scenes.

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Branded by Fire, by Nalini Singh

Branded by Fire - Small

The sixth full length novel in Ms Singh’s successful Psy/Changeling series, Branded by Fire is the story of Mercy Smith and Riley Kincaid. For those among you who haven’t followed the series, Mercy is a high ranking sentinel with the Dark River leopard pack, while Riley is a lieutenant with the Snow Dancers wolf pack.

Generally speaking, newcomers to the series shouldn’t have many issues catching up, as there is just enough background given to explain the world and set up the story, without unduly slowing down the narrative for long time fans. However, I do recommend reading this series in order, not only because the world Ms Singh has created grows more complex with each release, but also because these two characters have brief appearances in several of the earlier books, which enriches the experience of—finally!—reading their story. Furthermore, there is an overarching story arc throughout the series, with little snippets in every book contributing to its development, which on its own would make it worth reading the books in the order of release.

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Broken Wing, by Judith James

Broken Wing

Ms James’ debut novel, Broken Wing is a historical romance set during the Napoleonic wars. The action covers a number of years and countries, mainly following the fate of its hero, Gabriel St Croix.

I first fell for this title because of Kristie(J)’s review. She has a way of making people crave whatever she has loved. However, around the time I got a copy (courtesy of Ms James herself, through a giveaway at Romance Novel TV—if memory serves *wince*) I happened to read this review by our very own Super Librarian. Yikes!!! Conflicting reviews ahoy, both from people whose tastes I trust!

So I put it on the TBR mountain range, knowing that sooner or later I would just grab and read it. Then orannia came up with a nifty little challenge and… here we are.

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For those of you new to the world of romance novel blogland, the Smart Bitches are a couple of very smart, very funny, ultra-snarky bloggers who have a passion for romance novels; a passion that does not, however, blind them to the genre’s shortcomings, such as the over use of clichés, tropes, the godawful cover art, the often apostrophe-ridden, wince-worthy titles.

beyond-heaving-bosoms-miniThe Smart Bitches (SBSarah, aka Sarah Wendell of New Jersey, and SBCandy, aka Candy Tan of Oregon) have been around for a few years, providing continuous entertainment with their cover snark and an endless education. Their discussions have covered all aspects of the romance genre-from the use of rape as a metaphor for seduction to the evolution of the heroes and heroines from the stereotypes of the 1980s to the more realistic people of the late 1990s, to the use of ferrets to root out and demolish-metaphorically speaking-plagiarists.

How these two intelligent and educated women got together to create their very popular website, Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books, is a different story entirely, but now, inevitably, they have collaborated on a book that has a bit of something for everyone who believes that romance novels should be treated no more, but certainly no less, respectfully than other genres. After all, romance novels account for a hefty percentage of all book sales worldwide-in fact, the biggest slice of the publishing pie for any single genre.

A warning to those readers who may be easily offended by “strong language” (e.g., the “f” word, the “c” word, the “p” word, the “s” word, the “mf” word and, probably, the “x”, “y” and “z” words, too): you may want to consider waiting for the expurgated version.

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premeditated-murderPremeditated Murder, by Ed Gaffney

A courtroom drama, Premeditated Murder was Mr Gaffney’s debut novel. To date, he only has four books out (and was nominated for the 2009 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original for his fourth book, Enemy Combatant). This book introduces to the readers two wonderful characters, lawyers Zack Wilson and Terry Tallach.

Here is the back cover blurb:

In a courtroom, everyone is entitled to the best defense. But in this trial, it will have to be the best defense… ever.

In a New England courtroom, two young defense lawyers face a trial they cannot win. For attorneys Zack Wilson and Terry Tallach, partners and best friends, it seems an open and shut case. Their client confessed to a horrific multiple homicide-and Zack and Terry have only one hope: to spare him from the death penalty. But even that is a long shot… until the case takes a sudden, strange turn.

The two lawyers may have stumbled on a loophole: their client had a secret motive for his indefensible act-a motive that might even free him if Zach and Terry can pull off an ingenious defense.

But as the media descend on a quiet Massachusetts town, and as Zack and Terry fight to save their client’s life, a surprise witness turns the trial into something no one could have predicted. Because only he can pull all the pieces of an astounding puzzle together-and expose a conspiracy that is more shocking, far-reaching, and treacherous than anyone could guess…

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A Bravo’s Honor, by Christine Rimmer

a-bravos-honor

Part of the long running Bravo series, this is my second exposure to Ms Rimmer’s work. Just a few weeks ago I reviewed the previous title, The Bravo Bachelor, here. A western-flavored retelling of Romeo and Juliet (with the requisite romance genre happy ending), A Bravo’s Honor tells the story of Luke Bravo and Mercedes (Mercy) Cabrera.

He is the third son of Davis Bravo, the wealthy financier and patriarch of this particular branch of the large Bravo family. She is the adoptive daughter of Javier Cabrera. Both families have been sworn enemies for some sixty years, and while there haven’t been any duels recently, there seems to be plenty of bad blood-cause enough to avoid stirring the pot, so to speak.

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unnatural-deathYou guys probably cannot tell, reading the bulk of my reviews, but I do read stuff other than romances.

Case in point:

Unnatural Death, by Dorothy L. Sayers

Oh man, my love for Ms Sayers’ characters is probably unhealthy, it is so vast, so deep, so strong! Unnatural Death is the third of Ms Sayers’ novels starring Lord Peter Wimsey, and the one in which the inimitable Miss Climpson is introduced.

The back cover blurb in my copy does the story absolutely no justice:

The wealthy old woman was dead-a trifle sooner than expected. The intricate trail of horror and senseless murder led from a beautiful Hampshire village to a fashionable London flat and a deliberate test of amour-staged by the debonair sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey.

Okay, now forget that awful paragraph; it has nothing to do with the novel.

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tall-dark-defenderTall Dark Defender, by Beth Cornelison

This Silhouette Romantic Suspense title is my first exposure to Ms Cornelison’s work (though I know there’s at least another one in my TBR mountain range…). Tall Dark Defender tells the story of Annie Compton, a single mother of two young children and a survivor of terrific domestic abuse, and Jonah Deveraux, an ex-cop with his own emotional scars. This is also a sequel of sorts to Duty to Protect, in which Annie is a secondary character.

Here is the (misleading as usual) back cover blurb:

Rescued by a handsome stranger.

Undercover investigator Jonah Deveraux barely knew Annie Compton, but that didn’t stop him from nearly blowing his cover to save the pretty waitress from a ruthless killer. Convincing the stubborn single mom that she needed his protection 24/7 was a fiery battle of wills, but fighting his burning desire to make love to her was a war he wasn’t sure he could-or wanted to-win.

Annie didn’t like a mysterious man keeping watch over her, especially one as dangerously attractive as Jonah. But she’d do anything to keep her family alive, even if it meant giving in to her temporary bodyguard’s demands regarding her safety… and her heart.

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Jane’s Warlord, by Angela Knightjanes-warlord

After reading Ms Knight’s short story “Mad Dog Love”  (Shifter anthology, Berkley, 2008–review here), I was quite keen on reading more of her work. Fortunately I didn’t have to wait long, for I had this novel waiting for me in the scary (and every growing, yikes!) TBR mountain range.

Even though Jane’s Warlord is published by the Paranormal Romance imprint at Berkley, it’s more a futuristic romance, with shades of science fiction world-building, so to speak. In that sense, it’s quite close to “Mad Dog Love” in fact. Here is the back cover blurb:
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shifter-anth

Shifter anthology

As implied by the title, this 2008 anthology by Berkley contains stories centered on shapeshifters, with each author giving these paranormal beings their own unique spin. I grabbed this book while glomming the Warriors of Poseidon series and, I have to say, I have had GREAT luck with anthologies lately. Way better than the usual for me, for sure: four stories, three read, three enjoyed.

The (much hated) back cover blurb:

Something happens when the beast within is teased and tempted. Something dangerous. Something inescapable. Something so irresistible no woman would want to run from it.

Whether transforming beneath a cool blue moon, prowling the night streets with feline grace and bloodred talons, or panting with pleasure, the shifters come alive to fulfill your wildest fantasies…

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The blame for this lies squarely on the amazing Super Librarian’s shoulders. She made me do it.

A Not-So-Perfect Past, by Beth Andrews

a-not-so-perfect-past

Published in April 2009 by Harlequin Superromance, A Not-So-Perfect Past is Ms Andrews’ second novel, and the first of her books I’ve read. It has also shot to my top ten contemporary romances I’ve read recently. The setup is simple and-I suspect-may be off-putting to many readers. The hero is an ex-con, but not your stereotypical “wrongly accused” one. He spent five long years in a maximum security prison for a homicide (murder, in the eyes of the town) he did commit. The heroine is one of the town’s good girls, and an annoying, irritating, want-to-shake-some-backbone-into-her doormat.

The magic is in how, through Ms Andrews’ writing, we see these two characters grow past their current limitations and evolve into more rounded human beings.

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Atlantis Unleashed, by Alyssa Day

atlantis-unleashed

The fifth installment in Ms Day’s Warriors of Poseidon series, Atlantis Unleashed is the third full length novel in the series. It follows the fate of one of Atlantis’ Seven chosen Warriors, Lord Justice, after the climactic events narrated near the end of the previous book, Atlantis Awakening.

Because of the complexity of this universe, I would definitely recommend reading all the stories in order-Atlantis Rising, “Wild Hearts in Atlantis” (Wild Thing anthology), Atlantis Awakening, “Shifter’s Lady” (Shifter anthology) and, finally, Atlantis Unleashed-as many secondary threads are woven through them, building the overarching plotline. For this reason, at least a few spoilers for previous stories are unavoidable in this review, so… reader beware.

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First: this one is Kristie(J)‘s fault-all of it! (Well, okay, the inimitable Super Librarian is involved there somehow, but still! All Kristie(J)!)

Second: next time someone recommends a book without telling me it’s the third in a trilogy, I’ll grab a leaf outta Little CJ’s book and start with the voodoo dolls and the pointy objects. (The good news: this one reads very much like a stand-alone until the last three or so chapters, so no one is getting hurt… this time. I seriously would advise you guys not to tempt fate, though, capisci?)

*ahem*

Ride the Fire by Pamela Clare

ride-the-fire-reissue

My confession: despite having one or (more likely) two other books by Ms Clare in the TBR mountain range, Ride the Fire is the first of hers I’ve read. Unbeknownst to me before I read it *glaring at Kristie(J) and Super Librarian Wendy* this is the third title in Ms Clare’s Blakewell/Kenleigh trilogy. As stated above, it can be read as a stand-alone title, but people like me *coughanalretentivecough* want know where it stands before reading it.

Set in the Ohio frontier during the tumultuous period after the French and Indian war, it follows Nicholas Kenleigh, firstborn son and heir to the Kenleigh Shipping empire in Virginia, and one Elspeth (Bethie) Stewart, the young widow of a humble settler.

I find I need to issue a warning: while this is definitely a romance, it includes some rather intense and graphic descriptions of violence-not for the faint of heart. Reader beware.

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Sweet Surrender, by Maya Bankssweet-surrender

Published by Berkley HEAT, Sweet Surrender is the first in a loosely connected series of erotic contemporary romances set in Houston. This novel, at its core, follows Faith Malone’s path of self-discovery. She is considered by everyone who knows her to be a sweet and feminine girl (nevermind that she’s twenty three or so *ahem*). As such, so far all of her romantic relationships have left her vaguely dissatisfied and wondering whether something is wrong with her.

Before going further, reader beware: this novel contains graphic language, explicit sexual scenes and what some may term objectionable sexual practices.

Here is the back cover blurb:
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Atlantis Awakening, by Alyssa Dayatlantis-awakening

As you see, I’m still on a Warriors of Poseidon kick-these books make for compelling reads, let me tell you. Atlantis Awakening is the third title in the series. The warriors of Poseidon are an elite group of Atlanteans who accept their god’s calling to protect humanity, and their stories are entwined with humanity’s fight against evil.

This novel follows Ven (aka Lord Vengeance, younger brother and heir to Conlan, High Prince of Atlantis) and his relationship with Erin Connors, witch and gem singer, while continuing the overarching storyline.

As I mentioned in my review of Atlantis Rising, a number of mythologies are amalgamated to create the framework of this universe, although the predominant mythos is the Greek pantheon.

But I’m getting ahead of myself-here’s the back cover blurb:
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Kiss & Hell, by Dakota Cassidykiss-hell

A paranormal romantic comedy with heart is probably the easiest way to describe Ms Cassidy’s Kiss & Hell. The problem is that such a label doesn’t come even close to doing it justice. There are some deeper threads mixed in with the laughter, but there isn’t any overt preaching because none of the characters take themselves terribly seriously.

There is some graphic language and a couple of rather explicit sex scenes in the novel, but the real warning is for people who can’t take their religion with a sense of humor-the language in the narrative is highly irreverent, but definitely not with the intent to offend.

Here is the back cover blurb:
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the-tycoons-rebel-brideThe Tycoon’s Rebel Bride, by Maya Banks

The second in Ms Banks’ Anetakis Tycoons trilogy, The Tycoon’s Rebel Bride follows the second Anetakis brother, Theron, and Isabella Caplan, erstwhile ward of his elder brother Chrysander. This novel is a good example of how clichés can be used effectively to tell a story.

First, the back cover blurb:

“I don’t suppose you saved me a dance?”

Tycoon Theron Anetakis had only one problem-and she just walked through his door. With his business takeover complete, he’d intended to arrange a marriage for himself to further secure his future. However…

Little Isabella Caplan had blossomed into a voluptuous vixen with plans of her own, and they didn’t include letting the executor of her father’s estate also arrange a marriage for her to another man! She had pined for Theron long enough. Now it was time to seduce her hot-blooded hotel tycoon and bring him to one bended knee.

The Anetakis Tycoons-Three Greek tycoon brothers bound for love… only as a last resort!

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wild-thing-anthI have mentioned before that I rarely read anthologies cover to cover-which begs the question of why I buy them in the first place. The answer is that I want one-perhaps two-of the stories within, and that I want that one story bad enough to pay for content I know I am likely never to read.

You can imagine how happy I am on those occasions when two or more of the stories in the same anthology resonate with me. These are two such stories, originally published in 2007 in the Wild Thing anthology by Berkley. (more…)

“A Gypsy’s Vow”, by Bonnie Deea-gypsys-vow

I believe it is no secret that I enjoy Ms Dee’s writing very much. This short story, published by Silver Liquid Books, is no exception. Set in England in 1902, “A Gypsy’s Vow” is a sweet little tale of romance-and lust. A little warning, then: the romance is sweet, but there is graphic sex within.

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