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TBR Challenge: The Guy Most Likely To...

Sensuality Rating: Tending Towards Torrid

The Theme: We Love Short Shorts! (Short stories, novellas, or category romance.)

Why This One?: My personal rule is that all books have to come from my print TBR. I was pleased to find a book there that fit the theme so well — short stories and category romance — plus, I won it at Wendy’s blog.

The Word: I’m not a big fan of either romance short stories or the Blaze line, and putting them together did not improve them.

This anthology includes three unrelated stories, two of which link to other books by their authors. All three are about couples whose past relationships were thwarted by the guy, for various reasons. Now the couples are meeting again at their 10 year high school reunions.

“Underneath it All” by Leslie Kelly. Lauren was devastated and humiliated when her boyfriend Seth skipped town right before prom, leaving her a Prom Queen without a King. She only agreed to go to the reunion because Seth wasn’t supposed to be there. But Seth turns up anyway, hoping to finally make things right with the girl he could never forget.

I had trouble with both characters in this story. Lauren’s devastation is understandable, but it’s quite obvious that something major happened to Seth and his family, which makes her long-time hatred towards him seem self-absorbed and immature.  And if Seth had pined for Lauren all these years, why didn’t he make more of an effort to get in touch with her? The ending was cute, but then it got spoiled by going way, way over the top.

“Can’t Get You Out of My Head” by Janelle Denison. I loved the premise of this story. Geeky Will’s dreams had come true when gorgeous cheerleader Ali agreed to go on a date with him, but a beating and threats from a guy on the football team forced him to cancel. Now he’s hoping for a second chance.

I was disappointed that Will shows up for the reunion devastatingly handsome and super successful. Ali had liked him the way he was — why did he have to become like every other romance hero? The rest of the story plays out as you’d expect, and in a very bland manner.  Props for being the only story in the collection featuring safe sex. (Dudes, “I’m clean” does not constitute safe sex!)

“A Moment Like This” by Julie Leto. Bad boy Rip refused to get involved with good girl Erica when they were in Catholic school together — but they’re adults now, and things are very different, especially Erica. I think this story could have been good if it weren’t squeezed into too small a space — with some of that limited space given over to sequel baiting. It needed more backstory.

Overall, a meh collection. If you enjoy Blazes, you’ll probably like it more than I did. You can buy it from Amazon in print or for Kindle here.

Published by Harlequin. Review copy won from a blog contest.

Azteclady reviews, The Heart of Christmas Anthology

The Heart of Christmas Anthology

After reading and enjoying Courtney Milan’s work, I have been keeping my eye out for a copy of this anthology, which contains her print debut, the novella “This Wicked Gift.” I am very, very happy to report that it didn’t disappoint—to the contrary, I enjoyed it soooo much!

But hold on, let me get this review back on track.

The anthology consists of three Christmas themed stories by Mary Balogh, Nicola Cornick, and Ms Milan. Here is the back cover blurb:

‘Tis the Season for Falling in Love…

“A Handful of Gold”

Not only is Julian Dare dashing and wealthy, but he’s the heir to an earldom. So what do you get a man who has everything? Innocent and comely Verity Ewing plans on giving Julian her heart—the most precious gift of all.

“The Season for Suitors”

After some close encounters with rakes in which she was nearly compromised, heires Clara Davenport realizes that she needs some expert advice. And who better for the job than Sebastian Fleet, the most notorious rake in town? But the tutelage doesn’t go quite as planned, as both Sebastian and Clara find it difficult to remain objective when it comes to lessons of the heart!

“This Wicked Gift”

Lavinia Spencer has been saving her hard-earned pennies to provide her family with Christmas dinner. Days before the holiday, her brother is swindled, leaving them owing more than they can ever repay. Until a mysterious benefactor offers to settle the debt. Innocent Lavinia is stunned by what the dashing William White wants in return. Will she exchange a wicked gift for her family’s future?

Starting in reverse order: (more…)

A Hearing Heart, by Bonnie DeeA Hearing Heart

Just shy of two hundred pages, set in a small town in Nebraska at the turn of the twentieth century, A Hearing Heart is a very moving story. From the setting to the issues it touches on, A Hearing Heart is definitely worth reading.

Here is the blurb:

The heart conveys messages beyond what ears can hear.

After the death of her fiancé, Catherine Johnson, a New York schoolteacher in 1901, travels to Nebraska to teach a one-room school and escape her sad memories. One afternoon, violence erupts in the sleepy town. Catherine saves deaf stable hand, Jim Kinney, from torture by drunken thugs.

As she takes charge of his education, teaching him to read and sign, attraction grows between them. The warmth and humor in this silent man transcends the need for speech and his eyes tell her all she needs to know about his feelings for her. But the obstacles of class difference and the stigma of his handicap are almost insurmountable barriers to their growing attachment.

Will Catherine flout society’s rules and allow herself to love again? Can Jim make his way out of poverty as a deaf man in a hearing world? And together will they beat the corrupt robber baron who has a stranglehold on the town?

(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.

Here is the blurb: (more…)

The Countess Lends a Hand, by Bonnie Dee

I believe I mentioned before that I fell in love with Ms Dee’s writing after reading The Countess Takes a Lover. My infatuation has only grown after reading Empath a few weeks ago and the short novel The Countess Lends a Hand just now.

I confess that I don’t know how much of the historical detail in the Countess’ stories* is accurate or not—I sense that some of the language may not be, at any rate—but the story telling and the characterization in each of Ms Dee’s stories that I’ve read so far has grabbed my interest from first to last page.

From the publisher, the usual warning: This title contains a Regency hero and heroine doing the library lambada, and graphic language Jane Austen wishes her editor would have let her characters use. (more…)

Empath, by Bonnie Dee

Part of Samhain’s Gifted anthology, Empath is a novella length contemporary romance, with a touch of the paranormal. It centers on Jordan, an empath who has grown to resent his ability to the point of living as a virtual hermit in order to avoid contact with others’ feelings, and Lauren, a police detective whose trust on her ability to accurately judge people’s characters—essential to her job—has been badly shaken by experience.

This is an adult story, which uses graphic language and contains explicit sex scenes, so minors shouldn’t read further—nor should people who object to either the language or the content.

And with that out of the way, this is the blurb from the publisher’s site:

How to trust him…when she can’t even trust herself?

Jordan Langley thought he could deal with his empathic “gift”—until a traumatic event drove him into seclusion. As a hermit, he can avoid a world that tears his own emotions to shreds. But now a friend needs his help to reach an autistic boy who witnessed a murder.

Detective Lauren Sadler specializes in blocking her emotions so she can do her job. She can’t deny Jordan’s ability to reach the troubled boy, but she hadn’t counted on how his touch affects her.

In the midst of the investigation, Jordan and Lauren break their own rules, sharing a night of passion that shatters all their barriers. Jordan is intrigued by the vulnerability and self-doubt he senses underneath Lauren’s tough exterior.

But Lauren isn’t sure if she’s ready to yield to the power of the most intimate exchange she has ever known. Even if it’s the only way to catch a killer.

(more…)

Short stories round up—some available free online, some part of anthologies. (Alphabetical by title)

Nota bene: I very rarely read anthologies in one sitting, particularly because I often buy them for one author/story, and have no curiosity about the others. My choice of stories to review, therefore, has nothing whatsoever to say about the quality of the other stories. After all, I haven’t read them. (more…)

The Countess Takes a Lover, by Bonnie Dee.

This is a very well executed short novel/long novella erotic romance from Samhain, set in London during the Regency (1800s). Ms Dee, who was a new-to-me writer, uses a few reliable tropes of the romance genre, but her excellent execution makes them feel fresh.

And for once, the blurb is nigh perfect!

Countess Meredith du Chevalier, a widow with a reputation for being sexually adventurous, is intrigued when she is approached by a gentleman who wishes her to “make a man” of his son. Sensing a passionate man beneath Christopher Whitby’s reserved exterior, Meredith takes on the challenge, inviting the botanist to her country home to revitalize her abandoned greenhouse.

Chris finds people to be a chaotic, animalistic species, and has chosen to devote his life to the study of plants. One kiss from the vivacious countess, however, and his inner animal is aroused. But lust is only a fraction of what he feels for the vulnerable woman hiding behind a brittle façade. He resolves to coax her to grow until her petals unfurl into glorious bloom.

To her surprise, Meredith finds Chris brings much more to life than just fallow soil. But just as their love begins to thrive, he learns about the secret arrangement. Meredith must risk her heart for the most dangerous lesson of all—love.

At a little over 130 pages, The Countess takes a Lover is, again, a bit shorter that most of the books I usually like, but the pacing is so well done as to make that just a minor quibble and not very noteworthy.

While having a wealthy society widow with a tarnished reputation as a heroine is not all that common, the fact that she was unhappy—and sexually unfulfilled—during her marriage is fairly common in romance novels indeed. In this case, Meredith wasn’t merely neglected or unhappy, but suffered true emotional and sexual abuse of increasing degree at the hands of her husband until his death. Further, her veiled cries for help to her family fell on deaf ears—and cold hearts—all of which left her deeply scarred emotionally.

However, she possesses a will strong enough to allow her to rise above this, and free herself—for the most part at least—from her past. She discovers her knack for business first, and the power of her sensuality soon enough after that, and creates a life for herself in which she is not accountable to anyone else. Of course, given her background so far, she equates this contentment with happiness. (more…)

Rules of Engagement, by Ann Bruce

By now, anyone who reads my reviews knows that I have a *ahem* slight *ahem* bias against short stories—particularly when these are romances. Mostly because, in my experience, very few writers can pull off the character development that I, as a reader, need to see in order to believe in any sort of future for the characters.

As far as I’m concerned, the only rule an author cannot break in a romance of any stripe (historical, erotic, suspense, sweet, what-have-you) is having the characters reach the point, by the end of the story, where they could go on and be happy together. There doesn’t have to be a wedding, babies, picket fence nor rose-colored-glasses happily ever after—but I must be able to believe that these people have worked through enough of their issues, individually and together, that a future together is not just possible for them, but highly likely.

Not much to ask, right? But it usually takes a few hundred pages for me to reach this point.

Well, I’m happy to tell you all that this is a short story that completely turn my preconceptions about length and character development upside down. “Rules of Engagement” is a contemporary erotic romance, only some 65 pages in length, and the author sets up the hero’s character in less than two of those pages. Can you tell I’m impressed? and happy?

But I won’t gush (much).

Blurb:

After being shot three times in the chest and left for dead by his last lover, Jake Duquesne decides the middle of nowhere is a good place to recuperate. And it’s perfect… until someone decides to sneak up on him, gun drawn and cocked. Unfortunately for his would-be assailant, Jake’s ability to overpower is legendary — in more ways than one.

Waking up handcuffed to a strange bed wasn’t part of Katarzyna Delaney’s plans to heal after being jilted at the altar for the third time. Jake’s dark sensuality, however, makes her realize plans should be flexible. Even without a wedding, she decides she can still have all the intense sexual perks of a honeymoon — and there’s no one more intense than Jake.

Right away, there’s a huge hot button for me here. A woman who is in her late twenties, who has been engaged (and jilted) three times, yet is still a virgin? No matter how many older brothers or how intimidating they turn out to be (for the record: I happen to have three older brothers myself) a woman doesn’t remain a virgin that long unless she wants to. Which is perfectly fine, please don’t get me wrong, but which in this case conflicts with Katarzyna’s actions during the story.

(more…)


I read Bonnie Dee’s Seasons of Love yesterday, and I have to say, what an unusual and delightful selection of stories.

I really love Bonnie’s voice, and I love the way she’s able to draw me into her books, and really capture my imagination. I think that she, out of all the new-to-me authors, who I’ve read in recent times, has managed to take the idea of the stereo-typical romance hero, and totally turn it on its head.

Her heroes are deliciously flawed, heart-breakingly tortured, and are generally beta males, rather than the ever popular alpha heroes. Whilst her heroines are surprisingly strong-spirited, without being painful or stupid.

Seasons of Love is a collection of stories, which represent all four of our seasons.

The first story is called Maypole Dance – This is the spring offering, and here’s the blurb from LSB:

This story moved me actually. It was very poignant and sweet, and I suspect if anybody else had attempted to write it, it just wouldn’t have worked. I’m not really into sprites, faeries, or any other cutesy other-worldly beings, so I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed this story, and the sorrow that I felt when the hero and heroine had to be parted, especially taking into consideration that I wasn’t particularly fond of the heroine in the first instance.

The next story was called Amish Paradise, and was the summer story:

Loved this one. It was very Romeo and Juliet-esque. Raging passions galore, familial differences, clash of faiths, great internal conflict, identity crisis struggles, and a hero who picked out the Plain Jane, saw beyond her plain clothes, naked face, and un-stylish hair, and fell head over heels in love with the girl beneath the white cap. What could be more romantic?

The autumn story was called Crisp Apples:

I didn’t like this one as much as the others. It was definitely the weakest of all the stories for me, mostly because I didn’t like the premise, and the hero and heroine were a little dull. But it was still beautifully written.

The winter story was A Lily For Christmas:

I’m very partial to the Maid-Having-It-Off-With-The-Lord-Of-The-Manor-type stories, (Which would probably explain my penchant for an eighties Spanish/Mexican drama called Isara The Slave Girl) and this was no exception.

I loved the ambience and the settings of each of the stories. I really did.

Whilst reading Amish Paradise, I could literally feel the heat of the sun on my skin, the flies buzzing round my head. I could see myself sitting in a car at a drive-thru movie theatre, eating pop-corn, whilst watching a surly James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause, and listening to Elvis Presley playing on the radio. Now that’s talent.