HomeReviewsInterviewsStoreABlogsOn Writing
Rock Addiction, by Nalini Singh

As a participant in the release tour, I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of Nalini Singh’s new contemporary romance, Rock Addiction, the first in a five-title series called Rock Kiss, that she’s self publishing. As most of you know, part of the deal, when participating in an author’s release tour, is to write and publish a review of the book in a timely manner. Please note that neither the author nor TRSOR Promotions, who organized all the blogger events related to the release, have asked for anything but a review, period.

However, and in the interest of full disclosure, I am a fan of Ms Singh’s Psy/Changeling series. I am not a fan of her Guild Hunter series, and up to now I have only read one of her previously released category contemporary titles, Desert Warrior–and I confess that I wasn’t terribly impressed with it.

With that in mind, this is my (quite long) review:

Rock Addiction, by Nalini Singh

A few years ago, Sarah of the ever Smart Bitches and Jane of the wonderful Dear Author created a campaign to Save the Contemporary! Why, you may ask. Well, because for a while there it seemed that single title contemporary romance had disappeared off the face of the earth. We had–and still have–plenty of contemporary category length romances, but they are problematic in their own way, as they must conform to stringent requirements specific to their publishing line. And most single title, full length contemporaries for a good long while seemed to be required to include a thread of suspense–there was a stalker, an unsolved murder, a conspiracy, a ghost, vengeance…you name it. It seemed that there could be no romance without external conflict.

(Feel free to tell me my reading is limited and list all your recommendations for good, straight up contemporary romances in the comments.)

And so, imagine my utter delight in reading a contemporary romance about two adults, with nary an external conflict or contrived plot point! Yes, reader heaven indeed.

Mind you, there is conflict, and these two people have plenty of baggage, but they deal with it, both their own and each other’s, by talking–whodathunkit, right?–and by valuing and respecting the other’s feelings as much as their own.

Here’s the blurb provided by the author:
(more…)

Willaful Review: A Woman Entangled by Cecilia Grant

womanSensuality Rating: Surreptitiously Steamy

Grant is known for her challenging heroines and here she stacks the deck against Kate by making her — gasp! — the anti-Elizabeth. Like her favorite literary heroine, Kate is often mortified by “a family that did not know the meaning of discretion.” However, she has no intention of following in Elizabeth’s footsteps:

“If Mr. Darcy, for example, had come to her with that first grudging proposal openly acknowledging his abhorrence at so lowering herself, she would have swallowed her pride long enough to choice out a yes. Affection and understanding could come afterward — or if they never came at all, she would have a good name and the grounds at Pemberley on which to build all the facility she required.”

Cut off from her father’s high ranking family because he married an actress, Kate’s goal is to help her sisters (and herself) by marrying her way back up the social ladder. Her exceptional beauty, charm, and perfect manners make her ambition fairly reasonable. If only she could find a way to attract the notice of eligible gentlemen. And if only she could stop noticing barrister Nicholas Blackshear.

The fortune hunting heroine is not all that new, but Grant gives it an interesting twist here by pairing her with someone just as snobbish and difficult in his way. Nick also has an “irregularity” in his family that he’s trying to live down — his brother married a former Cyprian. (See A Gentleman Undone – review here.) And though Nick quite properly cut his brother off, the scandal has still cost him success in his career. His only comfort is the sour grapes of convincing himself that the beautiful Kate Westbrook would be a terrible wife for him.

A plot summary makes both Nick and Kate sound appalling, but actually both are warmhearted, thoughtful people trying to do the right things in a society that has very warped ideas about what the right things are. I liked the genuineness of the situation here: Nick’s brother’s marriage really does cause him problems, and those aren’t easily wiped away, as they so often are in Regency romances. Part of what he has to learn is that giving up your family to please others isn’t worth it. And part of what Kate has to learn is that she can direct her talents and ambitions in a different direction.

This is the most smoothly written and gracefully plotted of Grant’s books so far. Referencing both Pride and Prejudice and Emma (there are parallels in Nick and Kate’s long-term friendship), it is somewhat Austen-ish in feel — insightful, intimate, and centered around a world in which behaving appropriately is all important. The downside of that is somewhat less emotional intensity — which perhaps is the right choice for these particular characters. Though not as astonishingly delightful as A Lady Awakened or as wrenching as A Gentleman Undone, it was very enjoyable, and I give it four stars. It’s available in several formats here.

Published by Bantam. 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: 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…)