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Review: Live by Mary Ann Rivers

liveSensuality Rating: Tenderly Torrid

There are some romance novels in which the conflict feels forced, like the characters are just making trouble for themselves. Live isn’t one of those: from almost the first meeting of Destiny and Hefin, they — and we — know that there’s a serious obstacle in the way of them having more than an ephemeral relationship. It gave the story quite a different feel from usual, because there’s no anticipation of an upcoming dark moment — their conflict is how to appreciate the moment they have.

And of course, as a reader, I’m dying to figure out how this issue can possibly be satisfactorily resolved, because it seems so impossible. (I kept thinking of Bob Newhart as Superman, with his suit lost at the dry cleaners: “I don’t know if we’re going to be able to get you out of this one, Lois.”) But gradually, beautifully, it comes to the perfect ending.

Des is firmly rooted in her Lakefield, Ohio community. (This is a small town novel without the small town, believably set in a city neighborhood.) Having recently lost her job, her family home, and her one remaining parent, she clings to pieces of the past. Helping her siblings and neighbors is one way she tries to fill what seems like an emptiness inside her:

After she got laid off six months ago, when Des looked down inside herself, she mostly saw time. Empty time.

But not how to live.

Not a life.

The people most closely related to her saw their entire lives inside themselves.

Hefin, the quietly sexy woodcarver she’s been noticing restoring the atrium of the library, is on the verge of beginning a new future. A vacation romance that turned into marriage brought him to the United States; now divorced, he plans to reconnect with his family in Wales and then move on to the work he was meant to be doing. He doesn’t particularly want to start something with no future — as Des correctly points out, he is a “goose” person, the kind who prefers to mate for life — but the attraction between them is very strong. As the attraction becomes love and they begin to truly know each other, the conflict between their needs becomes less rigidly obvious… if they can see it.

The story is written very carefully and deliberately, especially during the sex scenes. Lots of noticing, lots of descriptions of small details — a lavish depiction of sexual attraction that fits well with their personalities, since they’re both people who love to lavish care on others. As is often the case when authors are trying hard to write about sex in fresh language, it occasionally hit a wrong note for me, but I think it pays off in the end.

As any city-set story should be, Live is filled with casual diversity. Hefin, who was adopted from England as a baby, is an undefined racial mix. Destiny’s landlady made an interracial marriage in a far more difficult time. Destiny’s mother was Jewish, her father Irish Catholic. None of this is particularly important to the story, though the last two have some personal meaning to offer Destiny — it’s just part of the random weave of life.

This is a rich, tender story, not at all the usual contemporary family series fare. I’m looking forward to seeing where life takes the Burnside siblings next; you can buy this first book here. 4 stars.

Reviewed from an e-arc provided by NetGalley

Review: Glitterland by Alexis Hall

 

glitterlandNote: I wrote this review several months ago, when the book originally came out. I would now call the author an online friend.

Sensuality Rating: Uh… I’ve kind of forgotten. I guess Torrid.

It’s a little discombobulating reading a book written in the first person by someone you’ve interacted with online.  I had trouble at first separating Ash, the bipolar and severely anxious narrator of the story, from Alexis Hall, the friendly Internet voice. Then the character of Darian is introduced and Ash immediately begins mocking his clothes, his hair and (relentlessly) his Essex accent. I was intensely uncomfortable until I realized — oh! Ash is an asshole.

For Ash, feeling attracted to “a man who was practically orange and wearing beneath his jacket a shirt that read ‘Sexy and I know it,’ could only have been the sick joke of a universe that despised me.” Ash is an intellectual, a successful writer, wealthy and “posh.” He’s also just barely on the other side of a psychotic break, and even navigating a conversation with a stranger is often beyond him.  But Darian notices his interest, and climbs up to him, “like the world’s most ill-suited Romeo in pursuit of the world’s least convincing Juliet.” And Ash finds himself falling into a one-night stand.

“What did any of it matter? I’d never see him again. Nobody would ever know. All sense, all judgment, overthrown by an h-dropping, glottal-stopping glitter pirate, and I didn’t have to care.”

Then Darian shows up at Ash’s book signing, inconveniently revealing himself to be an actual person with feelings that were hurt when Ash disappeared in the night.  And still intensely attracted, Ash winds up in the difficult position of trying to relate to someone who really wants to get to know him. “…what was I supposed to say? That I enjoyed long walks on the beach and occasionally trying to kill myself?”

Darian is a sweetheart. He’s so comfortable in his own skin that he can appreciate the differences between them that confound Ash.  “I like it when you say fings, cos it sounds posh and filthy at the same time.” But he’s sensitive enough to call Ash on his snobbery, and even pokes a little fun himself:

He cleared his throat. “I say,” he said, in an outrageous RP [received pronunciation ] accent, “suck me off at once. Rar.”

I glared at him in outrage. “I do not sound like that! I’ve never said ‘I say.’ Or ‘rar.’”

“Get on wif it, peasant.”

I fell in love with Darian and Ash as a couple during their game of “Nabble,” in which you put down words that aren’t in the dictionary. (Darian easily admits that he doesn’t feel up to Scrabble against the erudite Ash.)

He was uncertain at first but soon he was nabbling like an old hand. First came glink (‘that like look what happens when two people are fancying each other from across the dance floor’), then gloffle (‘like when you put too much toffee in your mouf at once”)… And then, somehow, I got silly and offered up svlenky to describe the motion of his hips while dancing, to which he responded with flinkling, which was apparently what my brow did when I was coming up with something sarcastic to say. From there we moved through a few variations too ridiculous to be recorded. I foolishly formulated glimstruck as a representation of how it felt to be around him, and then we graduated to kissing, still fully clothed like a pair of teenagers on the wreckage of the Scrabble board.

Since this is a romance, naturally there’s a dark moment, and it’s kind of a classic. Ash does something so excruciatingly dreadful, I literally couldn’t bear to turn the page for several minutes to see the inevitable aftermath.

But Glitterland isn’t only a romance, it’s also a deeply resonant depiction of depression and anxiety. Ash is seriously mentally ill — and no, true love doesn’t mean he’s cured — and his descriptions are painfully authentic:

Depression simply is. It has no beginning and no end, no boundaries and no world outside itself. It is the first, the last, the only, the alpha and the omega. Memories of better times die upon its desolate shores. Voices drown in its seas. The mind becomes its own prisoner.

The things I cared about were the hooks I’d driven into the rock face. Depression snapped them, one by one, one by one. My only certainty was the fall.

Ash is terrified by how happy he is with Darian.  “…happiness was merely something else to lose.”  But later, when he’s gut-wrenchingly screwed things up between them, he has a stunning realization: “…I wasn’t depressed. I was sad. This little piece of hurt was all my own.”

I loved almost everything about this book. The writing just… melted in my mouth, it’s so smooth and rich and sweetly tart. But I did have some discomfort with the portrayal of Darian. I doubt if, as an American, I could fully grasp all the nuances of class and culture clash that were going on here, but I felt that Darian was almost too wise and perfect in his easygoing simplicity. Part of the point of the book, of course, is that the way Darian sounds and dresses has nothing to do with his value as a person, and obviously he needs to have an attractive personality, so they can fall in love. But there was a touch of “noble savage” about him that nagged at me. It might have helped if we’d gotten to see more of his inner life.

It’s still a marvelous story. I have to quote just one more passage, because it’s such a charming comment on an opposite attracts relationship:

The cottage pie was about as wholesome and straightforward as you could get. It was food for winter evenings and happy days. And the salad was rich, complicated, a little bit sweet, a little bit sharp, and seemed to be trying way too hard to be impressive. We’d both served each other a metaphor.

I give this 4 1/2 stars. You can buy it here.

Published by Riptide. Reviewed from e-arc provided by NetGalley.

TBR Challenge: Outcast Woman by Lucy Gordon

outcastThe theme: A Western. I screwed the pooch on this one — I thought it was a western historical and then discovered it was actually a contemporary set in Dartmoor! But as things turned out, the plot shared so many commonalities with classic Americana stories, I decided to let it stand.

Sensuality Rating: Steamy

Kirsty Trennon’s husband died in prison, proclaiming himself innocent with his last breath. Considered to be a sinful adulterer who drove him to murder, she’s been a local pariah ever since, living as a hermit on her isolated farm.

When Kirsty finds an escaped and ailing prisoner hiding in her barn, deliriously proclaiming his innocence, the parallel touches her heart and she helps him. As Mike gets well, Kirsty finds herself feeling desire for the first time, but her painful history, Mike’s issues, and their vastly divergent lifestyles make their relationship a tumultuous one.

You can see why I originally mistook this was an historical; it’s quite an old-fashioned plot, and the first mention of a phone was startling. (One of the villagers even calls Kirsty a witch!) The emphasis on Kirsty’s love of the land and of all living things, as well as subplots about evil developers trying to buy her out and so on, increased the resemblance.

Gordon is one of my favorite category authors, but this really wasn’t my style. It’s another very episodic, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink book — I kept wishing Gordon had chosen one plotline and developed it (and the characters) instead of branching out into a dozen different directions. It also has one of my most despised pet peeves — infertility healed by the power of twu wuv — and I was bothered by the emphasis on Kirsty’s innocence, as if the way people had treated her would have been just fine otherwise. It’s certainly readable, and the lonely beauty of the unusual setting may extend its appeal for some readers, but for me it was just 2 stars. It’s not in print or in digital format, but cheap copies are available here.

(Published by Silhouette. Review copy owned by me.)

Willaful Review: The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers

storySensuality Rating: Steamy

Rivers is a debut author, one I first encountered through her incredible blog posts at Wonkomance. I find that choosing authors based on their online writing rarely steers me wrong, and it sure didn’t this time.

At an emotional low ebb in her usually pleasant life, librarian Carrie comes across an intriguing personal ad: one Wednesday lunchtime meeting a week for kissing only, no dating, no hookups. Carrie is as struck with the man’s photo as his ad — handsome, dimpled, yet curiously self-protective — and starts to weave a fantasy around him:

“Of course, maybe it isn’t just Wednesdays. I have the sudden fanciful notion that maybe on Mondays he meets a stranger to just chat. Tuesdays, he meets another for hand-holding, then Wednesday he meets one for kissing, and so on, until Saturday. Saturdays he meets a woman for fucking only, completing the entire mating dance with six different women, with an excruciatingly prolonged bout of foreplay. Sundays, of course, are his day of rest.”

(This is completely wrong, of course, yet there’s a small element of truth to it. The writer of the ad, Carrie will discover, has had to compartmentalize his life very strictly.)

Carrie answers the ad, and her first kissing date with Brian confirms her strong attraction to him. (And I have to say, he worked just fine for me, as well):

“‘You have a librarian fetish?’ I don’t mind. Not at all.

‘Who doesn’t?’ He laughs again, and for the first time, there’s a little blush, right under where his eyeglasses kiss his cheekbones.”

[Swoon.]

But Carrie is startled to discover just how firm Brian is about holding onto his rules, despite how well they hit it off. Her friend Justin suggests that he sounds like “a story guy” — “a good guy with a bad story doing something stupid.” He doesn’t see that as a negative thing though: “Story guys are like life highlighters. Your life is all these big blocks of gray text, and then a story guy comes in with a big ol’ paragraph of neon pink so that when you flip back through your life, you can stop and remember all the important and interesting places.”

Brian is a good guy and he does have a bad story. But what he’s doing is wrenching and painful and beautiful. Or as Justin puts it, “When I said you should go for Story Boy I didn’t realize he was a Russian novel.”

I was happy that Carrie puts a lot of thought into this complex, messed up relationship. She decides at the beginning that because her life is so good, it’s a risk she can afford to take: “If I’m broken, the break will be clean and easily mended. If he breaks, I’m not sure if there will be enough pieces to approximate. I can afford to go along with what he thinks will protect him.” But it’s harder than she expected. After a kissing date, her small apartment seems lonely instead of cozy. “No real food, no wine. No cats. No plants. No good music, no housekeeping. It’s like the saddest version of Goodnight Moon ever.” And no matter how hard she tries to stick to the rules, she keeps asking for more.

And when Carries realize how truly difficult maintaining a relationship with Brian will be, she ponders again, and once more gets advice from Justin: “Carrie, would you like to know this part of yourself? … The part that opens herself up to a man based on nothing but a little intuition… Because you don’t have to. Your life is a nice one — there are no guarantees, but it’s on the right path to stay a nice one. Brian is not on this path.” A nice path indeed, Carrie realizes, a path that “will never lead to a man whose hands shake when he holds my face for a kiss that feels like falling.”

The plot of The Story Guy allows — demands — a slow physical build-up with delicious anticipation, making it an incredibly sexy read. The love scenes are fresh and exciting and intensely emotional.

This was an intensely emotional read all around, for me. It probably won’t make every reader burst into tears, but it has a lot to offer anyone. 5 stars. It is only available digitally; you can pre-order it here.

Published by Loveswept. Review copy provided by NetGalley.

Willaful Review: A Prior Engagement by Karina Bliss

Manually ReleasedSensuality rating: Steamy.

I wish I were good with photoshop, because it would be so fun to depict this story ala Twitter:

Lee Davis @leemealone Hey, it’s great to be back with the people who truly love me. #subtweeting #womenbebitches

Juliet Browne @needsnoromeo That awkward moment when your lover returns from the dead right after you finally slept with another man.

I have to joke a little, because this was such an intense read. Reading the first half felt like someone had grabbed my heart and was gently squeezing. The second half changed direction, but was equally powerful.

When Jules gets the news that her lover Lee hadn’t died in Afghanistan after all, her joy is mixed with apprehension.  For the past two years, she’s been playing the grieving fiance for Lee’s family and friends — the grief was completely genuine, but she couldn’t bear to tell them that she’d rejected Lee’s proposal before he went on tour. Lee, severely traumatized from his time as a POW, is suspicious of Juliet’s motives when he learns of her involvement in his family’s life and acceptance of his estate. When she doesn’t immediately confess her deception, he embarks on one of his own to punish her, pretending he doesn’t remember anything past his intention of proposing.

The vindictive hero/misjudged heroine dynamic is one that I absolutely love, and which we don’t find much in realistic contemporary romance any more, because it’s hard to write a hero who isn’t a despicable jerk. Here there’s such strong backstory that it works — both Lee and Juliet have been through a wringer, and it’s easy to cut them some slack. Lee’s frequent pangs of conscience and inconvenient feelings for Juliet also help redeem him.  As is common with this sort of story, Juliet comes very close to seeming like a martyr, but again, her history and character makes it plausible. And I vastly admired her clear-sighted and honest reaction when the truth finally comes out.

The story loses some steam after the big reveal, going on to concentrate on Lee’s difficulties with PTSD and integrating back into normal life; the two halves aren’t a seamless fit, but both evoked strong emotion.  The depiction of how it feels to be Lee is evocative and touching, with both deeply upsetting and positive aspects. Here he is after soaking up his first rain in years:

When at last he climbed into the car, water had plastered his hair to his skull and the sodden t-shirt clung to his body, revealing every rib, every sinew of lean, wasted muscle. But his green eyes were luminous, as though the rain had filled him to the brim and spilled over.

This is the final book in a series I hadn’t previously read, and the previous couples are big parts of the story; although it stood alone fine, I suspect reading them all in order adds even more to the experience. (There are also some possible spoilers.)

Four stars for good writing, great characterizations, and my favorite gut-punch. You can buy it from Amazon here.

Published by Harlequin. Review copy provided by NetGalley.

Willaful Review: Too Hot to Handle by Victoria Dahl

handleSensuality rating: On the tamer end of Torrid

Merry is happy to have found a job in Wyoming, near her closest friend, Grace. And after years of fruitlessly trying to find her niche, it’s also work she loves — turning a ghost town into a destination of historic interest. She’s crushed to discover that there’s a legal dispute over the project’s funding, and that she was hired mainly as a cheap interim measure, with no real power to do anything.

Desperate to make the restoration of Providence succeed, Merry covertly asks her neighbor Shane to repair the town’s buildings. Shane agrees, without telling Merry that he is the one disputing the funding; it’ll let him keep an eye on what’s going on, and perhaps help him stop the project he despises.  But as they get to know each other, Shane finds himself drawn to Merry’s enthusiasm, appreciation for domestic history… and wide, smiling mouth.  Against their better judgement they wind up in bed together, leaving Shane with a big problem: “Why the hell did her greatest passion have to be the one thing he couldn’t support?”

I had trouble getting into this at first — Merry seemed like such a sad sack, and Shane started out so cold. But Shane heats up very nicely, gradually noticing Merry’s attractive qualities — first her sweet round face and wide mouth, leading into her cleavage. This makes Merry come across as attractive in a believably ordinary sort of way. She thinks of herself as big and awkward, wears mostly funny t-shirts, and has no idea how to fix herself up, telling Grace, “When I put eyeliner on, I look like a five-year-old playing dress up. Or an eighty-year-old alcoholic trying to recapture her glory days.”  Even with Grace’s expert help, she knows that “[her] liner would be smudged and smeared within an hour. Her body rejected any transplants of prettiness.” That rang so true for me, and I enjoyed seeing her more subtle prettiness come through for Shane.

And Merry’s character turns around completely, the desperate, needy, unfocused woman who thinks, “I’m not even geeky enough to be good at being a sci-fi geek” (oh, I relate!) revealing herself to be strong in an unusual and striking way.  Merry’s life has been hard and it’s tempered her, because she’s refused to let it break her. By the end of the book, I admired her tremendously.

The depiction of Merry’s mother also stood out for me. The “hippie mom” is such an annoying stereotype, usually floating around wearing patchouli and sensing auras. Merry’s hippie mom wasn’t all that different from any other young single mom who struggled financially, did her best, and is now pretty much like any other middle aged mom. (With one minor exception which I won’t spoil.) Believably, she has a lot of sadness over Merry’s less than ideal childhood: “I wish I could’ve given you that when you were a little girl. A nuclear family. The American dream.”

As you can probably tell, the book hit me in a very personal way, which might not translate to other readers.  And Shane’s backstory and journey don’t have the authenticity and surprise of Merry’s, going in a predictable direction.  I liked the rest of the book so much I’m not really grading down for that, and give it 4 stars.

This is the second in a series, not counting several novellas; Grace and Cole from Close Enough to Touch are featured characters, but I think it would stand alone just fine.  You can buy it here.

Published by Harlequin. Review copy provided by netgalley.

Willaful Review: This Time Forever by Kathleen Eagle

foreversensuality rating: steamy

This RITA winning romance from 1992 has some serious meat on its bones, and as always, Eagle manages to make hard, complicated themes utterly enthralling to read.

Rodeo star Cleve Black Horse is on trial for first degree murder, with a lawyer who believes he’s guilty and a jury nothing like his peers. His faith is pinned on one juror, a white woman he can tell believes his story — but he winds up convicted anyway.

Fate seems determine to intertwine Cleve’s life with that of the juror, Susan. She’s the nurse in the emergency room one night when Cleve is stabbed by another prisoner. And that same night, Susan falls in love with an infant boy prematurely taken from his dead mother — a baby that may be Cleve’s. Susan can’t get permission to adopt an Indian child, so she desperately approaches Cleve in prison, despite knowing he has good reason to hate her.

This was such a vivid, compelling story, especially the first half. Even pretty much knowing how it would end, I was fascinated by Cleve’s trial. Eagle skillfully shows how culture clashes and racism are working against Cleve; at one point, the prosecutor make a big deal about Cleve taking his saddle with him when leaving the murder scene, while to Cleve, the saddle is so much a part of his identity, he can’t even find the words to explain it. His incompetent lawyer never picks up on this to help him, but we learn more later when Cleve tells Susan, “You know what being a cowboy mean to me? It meant not being an Indian. I mean, when I was winning, you know? When I was the man to beat. I didn’t have to be an Indian every time anybody looked at me.”

The writing is honest and unsparing. Ugly things happen, and they often have ugly consequences. But both Cleve and Susan are good people who’ve made mistakes, and their essential warmth and humanity and growing feelings for each other keep the story from getting bleak. Not everything gets wrapped up neatly at the end but Susan and Cleve wind up right where they belong, together.

Although I didn’t find the second half as riveting as the first, this was such an extraordinary novel I have to give it 5 stars. You can buy it from Amazon here (and as of this writing it’s only $1.99 for Kindle, but I’m not sure how long that will last.)

Originally published by Avon. Reprint published by Bell Bridge Books. Review copy from NetGalley.

Review: Just the Way You Are by Barbara Freethy

Sensuality rating: steamy

Freethy walks a fine line here between making her characters humanly fallible and making them dislikable. Although I enjoyed the book overall, I sometimes felt they wound up on the wrong side of the line.

This is the story of Alli, who’s recently asked her husband of nine years for a divorce, Sam, who married Alli because he got her pregnant, and Tessa, Sam’s first love and Alli’s sister. Tessa has never forgiven Alli for seducing her boyfriend, and they haven’t spoken since, but when the grandmother who raised them has a stroke, Tessa is forced to return home.  When Alli impulsively tells Tessa that their marriage is done because Sam has never gotten over her, Tessa can’t help but wonder if they can start again. (more…)

KarenS Review: Let Me Be The One By Bella Andre

KKB Sensuality Rating: Torrid

Well it’s been a while since I felt moved enough to want to write a review, but here I am all excited about a book, that wasn’t filled with thrills and spills, yet still managed to stimulate my reader senses.

I downloaded Bella Andre’s Let Me Be The One: The Sullivans, Book 6 a couple of days ago, and I finished reading it last night (even though I had to be up really early this morning).

I rather like Bella Andre’s books, I’m a fan. I’ve read every Sullivan book prior to Let Me Be The One, and they’ve all been pretty good, some obviously better than others. You guys should check her out, if you haven’t already.

Here’s the blurb from Ms Andre’s website:

In LET ME BE THE ONE, the brand-new book in Bella Andre’s New York Times and USA Today bestselling series about the Sullivan family, an unexpected friends-to-lovers romance might not only turn out to be so much hotter than anything bad boy pro baseball player Ryan Sullivan has ever known…but much, much sweeter, too.

When Vicki Bennett saved Ryan Sullivan’s life as a teenager, it was the beginning of a close friendship that never wavered despite her failed marriage to someone else and Ryan’s well-earned reputation as a ladies man. So when she suddenly needs a pretend boyfriend to protect herself and her career from a powerful man’s advances, he is the only person she can imagine asking.

Ryan will do anything to protect Vicki from harm, but when their “fake” kisses and caresses lead to an incredibly sensual night that neither of them can resist, will he have made the biggest mistake of all by irreparably jeopardizing their friendship? Or is it possible that what they’ve both been looking for has been right there the whole time…and the perfect combination of wicked and sweet, friendship and love, is finally within reach?

Now you all know that I’m a total sucker for a good friends-to-lovers story, and I have to say, Let Me Be The One was just….lovely. It really was.

This isn’t a book that will grab you by the nuts and totally screw with you, it’s not full of TSTL moments instigated by the heroine, or moments of assholiness from the hero, no no, not at all. This book was a gentle spring day, with occasional bursts of rain, but mostly filled with sunshine.

I know the above sounds kind of whimsical, and dare I say corny, but that’s how Let Me Be The One made me feel.

It was great to once again meet a heroine who not only had common sense, but also one who’s vulnerability and sensitivity didn’t turn her into a walking, talking moron.

Vicki Bennett was a sculptress, who’d met Ryan Sullivan back when she was in high school. They’d immediately connected, after Vicki saved Ryan’s life.

Connecting with her peers had always been an issue for Vicki, as her and her family never stayed anywhere long enough to make any real friends. But Ryan changed all that.

This excerpt in the prologue when Vicki was recalling their first meeting, made me feel all warm and fuzzy:

“Ryan made everything seem so easy though, as if the only thing that wouldn’t make sense was them not hanging out.

By the end of their trip to the art store and back, she knew all about his seven siblings, he knew she had two annoying little brothers, he’d told her what he liked about baseball, she’d told him what she loved about sculpting, and she’d been invited to dinner at the Sullivan house.

It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. The best one she’d ever had.”

Because Vicki was an army brat, just over a year later, her and her family had to relocate again. Vicki was devastated to be leaving Ryan, but the two of them kept in touch for the next fifteen years, through emails and phone calls.

Vicki had been secretly in love with her best friend, but because she didn’t believe she was Ryan’s type, and didn’t want to irreparably damage their friendship by confessing her love, she kept her feelings to herself.

Years later, newly divorced from her artist Italian husband of ten years, Vicki comes home.

Ryan is of course ecstatic to see her again after all this time, because unbeknownst to Vicki, he’d also harboured his own secret crush on her when they’d been teenagers.

Ryan was a hero to die for, which is weird, because out of all of the Sullivan brothers, his book wasn’t one that I was particularly looking forward to reading, but I have to say, Ms Andre did an amazing job with his story.

What I loved about Ryan and Vicki’s relationship was how their friendship really rang true to me. Of course I, as the reader knew that they were secretly in love with each other, but that knowledge didn’t detract from the essence of their friendship. They genuinely enjoyed being together, and only wanted the best for each other. The sudden realisation that they could be more, only added to what I thought was already a cracking story.

There were no huge moments of conflict, they didn’t argue needlessly, they were honest with each other, and actually, the only issue they had, was that neither knew that the other felt the same way.

Let Me Be The One was a book that had you routing for both the hero and the heroine, I was desperate for them to realise that they were in love with each other, but fear of ruining a great friendship kept stopping them from making a move.

However, when ‘the move’ came, it was epic. Their love scenes were hot, made all the hotter, by the fact that as the reader, I’d had to endure countless near-miss kisses. I have to say though, the anticipation of their getting together, made the wait, worth while.

Like I said, this isn’t a book that’s chock full of conflict or action, fanfare or explosions, instead it’s a book about two great friends who made it an absolute pleasure for this reader to watch them fall deeper in love.

You can check out Bella Andre’s website here, and download Let Me Be The One from Amazon.com here.

If you guys want to start at the beginning, the first Sullivan Book, The Look of Love, can be found at Amazon.com here. If you want to check out the other books in the series, just click on the book covers above.

Willaful Review: All Summer Long by Susan Mallery

Sensuality Rating: steamy, sweet, and plenty of both

I started this in a dubious frame of mine. I haven’t been that crazy about the series (I’ve mostly kept reading it for relaxation,) I didn’t really like the heroine from previous books, the hero sounded improbable, and I tend to be put off by “abused heroine must be gently coaxed into liking sex” plotlines.  To my surprise, I liked almost everything about it.

What got me is the characters. Charlie (she eschews her birth name, Chantel) is a tall, strong firefighter who’s always felt oversized and unfeminine, especially next to her tiny ballerina mom.  As she sees it, the one time she tried to be stereotypically “feminine” it backfired in the worst possible way, so now she’s just given up on the whole idea. Here’s a typical thought:

“He was taller than her. Stronger. Masculine enough to make her feel feminine. Sort of.”

(If you’re worried Charlie is going to be made-over, don’t be. That’s about as girly as she gets throughout the entire book.) (more…)

Willaful Review: The Theory of Attraction

The Theory of Attraction by Delphine Dryden. Published by Carina Press.  Sensuality rating: Blistering

Dryden did something really interesting here — created a hero who is clearly somewhere on the autism spectrum, with the accompanying literalness, rigidity, anxiety, and lack of social skills, but who’s also the world’s best Dom.

Camilla has been attracted to her geeky neighbor Ivan ever since she saw him respond calmly during an emergency; the hot bod he shows while running past her window — “6:30 in the morning, out for a run each and every day” — doesn’t hurt either. When Ivan enlists her help in learning how to behave appropriately at an important social event. Camilla is happy to have the chance to get closer to him. What she discovers when she does is quite a shock — far from the inexperienced virgin she envisioned, Ivan is an extremely adept Dom. And he has a lot to teach her, as well. (more…)

Willaful Review: About Last Night by Ruthie Knox

 Sensuality rating: Delightfully Torrid

I wanted to read this because I’ve loved Ruthie Knox’s posts at “Wonk-O-Mance,” a blog about addictively offbeat romance novels. I wouldn’t call About Last Night wonky, though it does break a number of unwritten romance rules; I actually felt a tad… disappointed isn’t exactly the right word, but I was just a touch let down at first because the story seemed fairly conventional. But I was sucked in by the terrific characterizations and by the end, my mind was fairly well blown.

Cath, a people-watcher, has admired the man she thinks of as “City” from afar for months.

She’d given him the nickname as a nod to his profession, because everything about him announced he worked in the City of London, the square-mile financial district at the center of the metropolis: the dignified wool overcoat and scarf he’d worn all winter, the shined shoes, the ever-present newspaper. Aristocratically remote, he was Prince Charming in a suit.

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Willaful Review: The Last Good Man by Kathleen Eagle

Sensuality rating: Steamy Plus. The language isn’t euphemistic, but the love scenes aren’t really graphic or elaborate.

After enjoying But That Was Yesterday  so much, I jumped at the chance to review this Kathleen Eagle reprint, originally published in 2000.  Although I didn’t love it quite as much, it was another intelligent, deftly characterized story, and confirms my feeling that Eagle is my newest favorite author.

All his life, Clay Keogh has given undemanding, unconditional love and care to anyone who’s needed it: abandoned horses, neglected kids, his firebrand half-brother Kole Kills Crow, and most of all, Savannah Stephens. Clay, Kole and Savannah had grown up together, but although she had a unspoken crush on the much older Kole, Clay was the one she experimented with, the boy who was totally trustworthy and totally devoted to her sexual pleasure. (more…)

Azteclady reviews, Sarah M. Anderson's A Man of His Word

A Man of His Word, by Sarah M. Anderson

A category length romance (scarcely 187 pages) published under Harlequin’s Desire imprint, A Man of His Word is Ms Anderson’s print debut and (from what I gather) the first in the Lawyers in Love trilogy, with the next two titles released in July and September.

My copy comes directly from the author, via a giveaway at Novel Thoughts right around the release date. Life being what it is and reading/reviewing mojo in the state is was, I only read this book a couple of weeks ago—and just now am I writing the review.¹

Confession number one: I can’t read the heroine’s name without giggling. Yes, I know, I suck and I’m mean, but there you have it: an acquaintance has a 14 year old teacup Yorkie named Rosebud. So, after giggling a few times in a row where laughter really wasn’t warranted, I mentally changed her name to Rose—and the book flowed so much better for me!

Here is what the blurb² tells us about the story: (more…)

The Search, by Nora Roberts

Reader beware: I am a fan of Ms Roberts’ writing, and very rarely do I feel disappointed by it. The Search was definitely not one of those rare books. In fact, it was quite the opposite: an engrossing read with interesting characters, great dialogue, and solid writing.

Here is the hardcover jacket blurb:

Number-one New York Times-bestselling author Nora Roberts presents a novel set in the Pacific Northwest, where an island provides sanctuary, the lush forests seduce the unwary, and a man and a woman find in each other the strength to carry on.

To most people, Fiona Bristow seems to have an idyllic life—a quaint house on an island off Seattle’s coast, a thriving dog-training school, and a challenging volunteer job performing canine search and rescue. Not to mention her three intensely loyal Labs. But Fiona got to this point by surviving a nightmare.

Several years ago, she was the only survivor of a serial killer—a madman who stalked and abducted young women, strangled them, and left them buried with a red scarf on their bodies. As authorities were closing in on the Red Scarf Killer, he shot and killed Fiona’s cop fiancé and his K-9 partner.

On Orcas Island, Fiona has found the peace and solitude she needed to rebuild her life. Yet all that changes on the day Simon Doyle barrels up her drive, desperate for her help. He’s the reluctant owner of an out-of-control puppy, foisted upon him by his mother. Jaws has eaten through Simon’s house, and he’s at his wit’s end.

To Fiona, Jaws is nothing she can’t handle. Simon is another matter. A newcomer to Orcas, he’s a rugged and intensely private artist, known for creating exquisite furniture. Simon never wanted a puppy, and he most definitely doesn’t want a woman. Besides, the lanky redhead is not his type. But tell that to the laws of attraction.

As Fiona embarks on training Jaws and as Simon begins to appreciate both dog and trainer, the past tears back into Fiona’s life. A copycat killer has emerged out of the shadows, a man whose bloodlust has been channeled by a master with one motive: to reclaim the women who slipped out of his hands…

By choice I have read very few in the way of actual reviews of this novel. Generally speaking, when one is spoiler-phobic, it’s wiser to avoid most chatter on books one is planning on reading. However, it is difficult to avoid all mentions of highly anticipated novels—which happens to be the case with most of Ms Roberts’ releases.

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Instant Attraction, by Jill Shalvisinstant-attraction1

This full length contemporary novel is the third of Ms Shalvis’ books that I’ve read, and I will say, right off the bat, that it’s the best so far. Instant Attraction, the first of three novels planned around Wilder Adventures and Expeditions (and about the three brothers who own it) is fast paced, funny without trying for laughs, and with vivid and appealing characters.

And, marvel of marvels, this novel is a pure contemporary. There is no murder, no conspiracy, no supernatural nor paranormal element in sight. People, with all their complexities, idiosyncrasies, and weaknesses, are what drives this book.

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So, like almost every other blogger in romanceland, here you have it:

(I suck at all things technical, so I can’t embed the wicked widget thingie)

Anyway, you can go read all about it over at Dear Author and/or at SmartBitches. Go forth and save the world, peeps.

Tycoon’s One-Night Revenge by Bronwyn Jameson

This Silhouette Desire novel was my introduction to Ms Jameson’s work. After reading the back blurb, I was a bit leery, since amnesia is one of those plot devices that tend to get on my nerves rather quick. After researching a bit (of the “reading reviews online” variety), I decided to give it a try. I’m happy to report that I don’t regret it at all.

Here’s the somewhat-accurate back cover blurb:

Revenge at last
Amnesia had stolen millionaire businessman Donovan Keane’s memory. But one look at treacherous beauty Susannah Horton, and Van could picture every delicious detail of the weekend they’d spent in his bed. She’d staged their affair to ruin an important deal—a deal about to go to her fiancé. Not that Van would let that happen. During one hot night, he’d destroy her engagement, take back the deal and walk away with all the memories he’d need. Good thing, because he’d never be able to get her out of his mind.
The tycoon was vengeance-bound… but the beauty in question was truly innocent.

As far as I can tell, this tycoon wasn’t looking for revenge, but then neither had he lost all his memory… Ah well, I really should stop looking at these things. Here’s the skinny according to moi:

Donovan Keane is the victim of a vicious attack by muggers, which results in injuries serious enough to land him in the hospital for months. After waking up from a short coma, he realizes that he also is missing most of his memories from the days before the attack. Not long after that, he is informed that a major deal he was working on during those missing days has fallen through, and in a rather puzzling manner. Around the same time, he learns something completely unexpected about his own past, which prompts him to try to recreate those missing days. (more…)

Baby, I’m yours, by Karen Templeton

After much prodding and pushing, nagging and cajoling (because a lot of that is needed to get me to read a book, obviously *ahem*) I finally caved in and got this novel. It is the third installment in Ms Templeton’s Guys and Daughters miniseries (Dear Santa and Yours, Mine… or Ours? being the first two), and also the first book by her that I’ve read.

May I say how glad I am to have friends who will keep piling great book recommendations on me?

Here’s the blurb:

Baby, be mine!
Kevin Vaccaro just found out he was a father… of a five-month-old! He’d put up a hell of a fight to overcome his troubled past. That was nothing compared to the battle he was about to wage for his child’s future.
Julianne McCabe had no intention of giving up her sister’s child—the child she loved as her own—without a fight. Yet that was before Kevin started bonding with his daughter. Before he awoke feelings that made the grieving widow long to share more than late-night feedings. But was she ready to risk her heart again to be the wife Kevin needed? To become the family they both wanted?
Guys and daughters—they’re the first men in their daughters’ lives—but they won’t be the last!

This is a Silhouette Special Edition romance novel; the story is much better than the blurb suggests (but then, what else is new?). Seriously though, while there are some widely used staples of the romance genre here, such as the grieving widow, the surprise baby, the was-good-for-nothing-turned-good hero, the meddling parent. The difference between other novels and this one is all in the execution, as is most often the case with good writing, regardless of genre.

This novel is barely 210 pages, with great pacing up until almost the very end. The plot is actually quite straightforward, with no major dramatic twists. There’s no chase, criminal conspiracy, blood, what have you—this book is about people finding themselves and each other, and as such, it’s completely character driven. (more…)