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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.)

TBR Challenge: Passion's Sweet Revenge by Jo Goodman

revengeSensuality Rating: Steamy, of course!

The theme: A steamy read

Why this one: It has not one but two passionate couples wearing bad eyeshadow on the cover! What says steamy better than that?

I didn’t exactly read this… I started it, began to skim, read big blocks, doubled back and read parts that I’d skipped before…  This is possibly the old skooliest old skool book Goodman ever wrote, and though her prose and storytelling are definitely better than they were in her first book, she hadn’t really found her voice yet. It’s also quite a squidgy read.  She threw everything but the kitchen sink into this one — I think the only bodice ripper trope it doesn’t have is a harem.

The time is during and after the Civil War, in which Logan and Mary Catherine were on opposite sides. (Strike one.)  Their love-hate relationship begins when she’s just an adolescent — first she worships him, then she hates him, then at age 15 she tries to seduce him. After Yankee Logan is caught by the enemy and set to a hellish prison, he believes she set him up and the hate continues. There’s a vengeance rape and a marriage to someone else and a secret baby and naughty photographs and assorted villains and I don’t know what all. About 95 percent of it made me uncomfortable in one way or another, though I liked it better on the second go through, in which I saw more of the feeling between the characters. I’m tempted to start over from the beginning and give it a real shot, but I just can’t face reading all the yeechy parts again.

I won’t give this a grade since I didn’t read it as it was meant to be read. It seems to be reasonably popular on GoodReads; I might have loved it a few years ago, when intensity was everything to me.  It’s not in print and hasn’t been digitized yet, but you can buy it cheap here.

Published by Zebra. (And how.) Reviewed from personal copy, probably acquired at paperbackswap.

TBR Challenge: River's End by Nora Roberts

endThe Challenge: Some form of “classic” book. I thought a big fat ole Nora Roberts fit the bill nicely.

Sensuality Rating: Steamy

As I read River’s End, I kept being reminded of Roberts’ later book The Witness. It’s not that I think Roberts plagiarised herself — more like she decided to rework her basic heroine and make her stronger and more interesting.  That seemed especially pertinent towards the end of this story, when Olivia starts behaving like a total ninny.

Livvy was only four when she saw her blood-covered father standing over the body of her brutalized mother. Her father was convicted of the murder and sentenced to 20 years, and her grandparents decided it would be better to wipe out the memory of her parents and the murder. So Olivia, trying to respect the loving people who raised her, has never really had a chance to process what happened.

The murder also made a deep impression on Noah, son of the police officer who first found and comforted the terrified Livvy. Now a true crime writer, Noah wants to reveal the emotional truth behind the murder — but he may be getting too close to some other truths. And he’s definitely getting too close to Livvy, who equates romantic love with pain and loss.

Although for much of the book, River’s End was well paced, tense, emotional and generally very enjoyable romantic suspense, I had a serious problem with it. I guessed almost immediately how the story was going to turn out, and as I read on, it became clear that the ending was going to make me very, very unhappy.  I wasn’t wrong.  That, plus Olivia’s descent into TSTL, cost the book the 4 star rating it might have earned from me; if you love romantic suspense, you may well feel differently.  3 stars. It’s available in multiple formats and you can buy it here.

TBR Challenge: Games of Command by Linnea Sinclair

gamesThe Theme: Read a RITA winner or nominee

Why This One: Someone mentioned at All About Romance that the hero is a socially awkward, pining, virgin Cyborg. You have my attention!

I’m a day late and also have to be a dollar short, since I’m drowning in review books. In brief, this was a very enjoyable science fiction frenemies-to-lovers story. Admiral Branden Kel-Paten is a cybernetically altered human; he’s not supposed to be able to have emotions — and would be in deep shit if anyone discovered he’s madly in love with Captain Tasha “Sass” Sebastian.  Nonetheless, he insists that she serve under him — heh — but somehow in every encounter he antagonizes her.  Tasha is a great tough, wisecracking, competent heroine, who eventually learns to see the protective, passionate man behind Kel-Paten’s emotionless exterior. The plot is a complicated, Star Trekian alien encounter, with some powerful twists.  Great read, 4 stars. You can buy it here.

Willaful Review: Rafe Sinclair's Revenge by Gayle Wilson. (TBR Challenge)

rafeSensuality Rating: lightly steamy

The Challenge: Read a book by an author with more than one book in your TBR

Gayle Wilson is one of my favorite Harlequin writers. Her historicals have a emotional quality that reminds me of Mary Balogh.  I’ve also enjoyed several of her contemporaries, but sadly, this romantic suspense story left me cold.

Suffering from severe PTSD, Rafe Sinclair left both the CIA and his lover Elizabeth; he’s spent the past six years doing carpentry in an isolated cabin. But the past refuses to let Rafe alone, and a threat to Elizabeth is all that’s needed to flush him out. Now he needs to discover if the despicable terrorist he killed six years ago could somehow have survived to haunt them.

Nothing about this story ever caught fire for me. Instead of sympathetic, I felt impatient with Rafe for deserting Elizabeth instead of seeking treatment for his PTSD. (And unless I missed it, he never does — they just decide to live with it!) The suspense isn’t suspenseful. And there was way too much backstory for a book that’s supposed to be beginning a series — it’s a spin-off, and tons of previous storylines and characters clutter up the place.

This isn’t much of a review, but if I keep going I’ll just put myself to sleep. I’m giving this book 2 stars, for some tender moments between lovers who could never forget each other. It’s out of print, but you can buy it used or for Kindle here.

Published by Harlequin. Review copy obtained from paperbackswap.com

Willaful Review: Painted by the Sun by Elizabeth Grayson (TBR Challenge)


Sensuality rating: Steamy

The Challenge: Read a book by a “New To Me” author.

To find a book for this challenge, I  checked out my print TBR, sorted by oldest received. It was an eye-opening experience. Book after book — more than 50 — by authors whom I’ve glommed, many I’d consider favorites. And I’ve owned these books for years.

It helped me get tough when I finally got to the NTM authors. Was this someone I wanted to spend time on, time I could be spending on unread Jo Goodman or Laura Kinsale books? I almost always go through a few culls before settling on my final TBR challenge book, but this time, I got rid of 7 books first. My most effective TBR challenge month so far!

Painted by the Sun managed to catch my restless attention with an unusual premise: the heroine is searching for her missing child, who was sent away on an “orphan train”  ten years previously. I’ve read many children’s books about the orphan trains, but I think this is the first time I’ve encountered them in a romance.  The premise is also interesting because Shea is working as a traveling photographer, a complex profession in 1875. The title comes from a quote by Ambrose Bierce: “Photography is a picture painted by the sun.”

While trying to take a picture of a hanging, Shea fall afoul of Judge Cameron Gallimore, a man who’s pretty sick of having to sentence people to death. He puts her camera — and her — into temporary custody. At first Shea is heartsick over the missed financial opportunity, but then comes around to the judge’s point of view: “she didn’t want to be able to make hundreds of copies of what she had seen, or relive what happened every time she did. She didn’t want to implant that image in anyone else’s mind…. She was a photographer, a business woman, not a mercenary. She was proud of what she did, and she would never have been able to be proud of this.”

Shea and Cameron next meet under even more fraught circumstances, when she saves him from men trying to take revenge for their friend’s death, and is badly wounded in the process. After Cam takes her home to be nursed by his housebound sister Lily,  Shea comes to care for the whole family and deeply envies their close bonds — especially with Cam’s ten year old son, Rand.

I can’t talk much more about the plot without spoilers, but I will say it’s very heavy in coincidences; by the middle of the book, the implausibility of it all was getting exasperating. By the end however, the threads had all been woven together with surprising delicacy, and I was once again charmed as I was at the beginning.

There’s a lot of heavy stuff going on in this story; every character has at least one source of major angst in their life, much of it centered around the Civil War. It’s a surprisingly easy, flowing read, but I think that’s partially because many of the angsty plot points get shortchanged.  The slow-growing romance is very tender and supportive, and the various child characters tugged effectively at my heartstrings,  but overall I don’t think it quite reached its potential. I’m giving it 3 1/2 stars; it’s out of print but available through paperbackswap.com or you can buy it used here.

Published by Bantam Books. Review copy owned by me for so long, I don’t remember how I got it.

Willaful Review: Silent Scream by Karen Rose (TBR challenge)

screamSensuality Rating: Steamy

The TBR challenge theme this month is a book in an unfinished series. I DNF’d this a few years ago, and honestly was just going to move on, but it turned out that the next Rose book I have to read follow-ups the events in this one. (Or so I thought. Paige actually doesn’t play that large a role here. Oh well, it’s read now.)

Silent Scream is romantic suspense, and the romance aspect has an interesting premise. In previous books, firefighter David Hunter has always seemed like the world’s most perfect man: giving, compassionate, heroic, as well as pretty as all get out. Here we discover why he’s so conspicuously awesome: he’s been doing penance for half his life, trying to make up for one night’s tragic, careless selfishness. The guilt he feels, along with that from another painful (though less tragic) mistake, has kept him from following up on a night spent with homicide detective Olivia Sutherland two years previously.  Olivia believes she means nothing to him, and because of painful events in her past, she’s disinclined to give him another shot.  But a complicated case involving arson and multiple murder gives them a new opportunity to find each other.

I’m sorry to say that just like I did on my first attempt, I felt very impatient with this story.  There are too many darn demons from the past hanging around – each main character has several and the information about them is dealt out bit by bit. A little of this goes a long way for me, and it seemed like they spend most of the first half of the book bewailing different top secret parts of the past. There are also way too many characters from their history mentioned. Even having read all the previous books and knowing who most of them were, I got overloaded.

Once the secrets are out, the romance is good. David and Olivia are well matched, both protective and competent people.  I’m one of those readers who wasn’t very big on Dana, the former unrequited love of David’s life, so I was rather pleased when David’s thinks, “That’s how Olivia’s different. She had the same need to protect without the drama Dana had always had swirling around her. Olivia got the job done. Efficiently and quietly. She’d do what needed to be done, the right way.” Including helping David heal his wounded heart.

The suspense parts of this romantic suspense were decently plotted, with some good twists. Violence-wise, this is one of Rose’s tamer books; there’s still a high body count, but no graphic scenes involving fixated serial killers who adore torturing people.  I was less relieved than it seemed like I should be, because the plot was incredibly creepy and seemed more like something that could actually happen. And there were so many unpleasant characters!

I think this may be one of those cases where since I started out annoyed, I just kept being annoyed. Even a highly emotional plot point didn’t work for me;  it was telegraphed a mile away and I found it manipulative rather than sad. I’m also getting tired of Rose’s tricks in regards to villains.

I’m giving this 2 1/2 stars, a rating I almost never give. I just can’t bring myself to give it 3, but 2 seems too low for a generally good book. You can buy it here.

Published by Grand Central. Review copy purchased by me.


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.

TBR Challenge: The Bridal Veil by Alexis Harrington

Sensuality rating: Lightly Steamy

(This was a difficult challenge for me because I don’t much like holiday stories. That fact became extremely obvious when I searched my paperbackswap TBR listing for Christmas books — most of what showed up turned out to have been already purged, and the remaining books became almost instant DNFs. I then looked through GoodReads listopias of best holiday books and saw mostly 1 and 2 star grades from myself. 

Recents events made the thought of attempting another obnoxiously cheery Christmas read intolerable, so I went searching in my historical TBR cabinet — the genre which needs the most help — hoping to find something with any connection to a holiday. And a random glance at a page in this book showed a reference to…. Jacob Marley! Good enough.)

Out of work, money and family, Emily Cannon takes the place of her recently deceased sister, who had been going to Oregon as a mail-order bride. Farmer Luke Becker had been looking forward to marrying the petite, dark-haired Alyssa – in his mind, expecting her to look just like his beloved dead wife — and is aghast when the tall, plain, straw-haired Emily suggests he marry her instead. But Emily has a card up her sleeve: she’s a teacher of deportment, and Luke’s young daughter Rose desperately needs to learn some civilized manners.  And so they marry, though Luke warns Emily that it can never be a marriage involving love.

As Emily begins to make a place with Luke and Rose, despite the fierce hostility of his former mother-in-law Cora, she begins to bloom. In her family she was always the plain, sensible sister, but Luke starts to notice her quiet grace and elegance. And while her civilized touches make their home a more attractive, comfortable place, she learns to let go of her too-rigid insistence on proper etiquette.

There’s a tender wistfulness to this story that I loved, embodied in the symbolism of the bridal veil.  Emily’s wedding is too hurried for her to even wear the veil, an heirloom which she had fantasized would make her look beautiful. She’s both admirable and pathetic, as she tries to sublimate her desires for emotional and physical love in duty and propriety.  In some ways, Luke is in a similar situation; although he’s always been attractive to women, his life hasn’t led him to expect much for himself. He’s just trying to support his family and be a good father, without hoping much for his own happiness. It’s very satisfying when these two both discover what they have to offer and what they can find together.

After the fact, I don’t think it was a coincidence that I picked up this book to examine.  I find Americana romance soothing; it values home… family… hard work… community… cooperation… endurance. The quiet, homey virtues, the ones that a major tragedy always highlights.  I give The Bridal Veil 4 stars, though I’m tempted to give it 5 because it held my wandering interest on a terribly sad and upsetting day. It’s out of print, but inexpensive copies are readily available, or it can be bought for Kindle here or for Nook here.

Originally published by St. Martin’s Press. Reviewed from owned copy, probably acquired at paperbackswap

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…)

SuperWendy TBR Challenge: ChasingTrouble by Anne Stuart (DNF)

sensuality rating: steamy

Grade: DNF

I debated whether to include an unfinished book for the TBR challenge — but hey, it did get it off my TBR.

Chasing Trouble is a film homage, a follow-up to  Stuart’s fantastic Catspaw. But what utterly slayed me in that Hitchcock/Cary Grant tribute fell flat in this “Maltese Falcon” pastiche.  Perhaps it’s too meta: our heroine Sally does her best to find a private detective as much like Sam Spade as possible, in her search for the — God help me — Manchurian Falcon.  Or perhaps ditzy Sally would be great if she were being played by Carole Lombard. In print she’s just annoying.

Mostly I found the plot too boring for words. I skimmed and read the romantic parts and they were pretty good, so if you have a high tolerance for gangsters and hijinks and dizzy women and men being comically driven out of their minds by dizzy women, you might enjoy it.

Chasing Trouble is out of print and not available digitally, but used copies are reasonably priced at Amazon.  Review (such as it is) from a copy I bought used somewhere.

Willaful Review: Tempting the Beast by Lora Leigh

Sensuality Rating: Blistering, i.e. the one time I tried to read a Lora Leigh book in public, I almost had a stroke.

This was my choice for SuperWendy’s “TBR Challenge,” steamy reads category.  I’m kind of over the Breeds series, but I got this one because I was curious about the beginning of the saga. I should have known better: in Leigh’s most Diana Palmerish fashion (and sometimes I could swear they’re the same writer on different drugs) even the book that starts the series begins after the story has already started. We don’t get to experience any surprise or mystery in the discovery of the existence of the genetically engineered human/animal breeds, or even to see our hero and heroine meet for the first time.  At the end of chapter one, an obsessed Merinus Tyler has set out to track down lion breed Callan Lyons to get his story (and perhaps a little somethin’ somethin’…), and at the beginning of chapter two, they have “been playing an amusing little game for over a week, now. She pretended not to know him, who he was, where he could be found, and he pretended she wasn’t snooping around town asking questions about him and his deceased mother and where he lived.”

There isn’t much plot: Merinus’s family has found out about the Breeds, and Merinus hopes to convince Callan to go public and testify against the scientists and government officials who engineered them to be killing machines.  The two meet and are instantly overwhelmingly hot for one another, which turns out to be a hormonally induced “mating heat” that will only subside with pregnancy. They fight it for awhile because… well, I was going to say, because that’s what Leigh characters do, but it actually does make sense considering the tenuousness of the situation. And there’s some betrayal, and an unexpected bit of history between Merinus’s brother and another Breed, and a whole lot of sexxing. (more…)

Azteclady reviews Cheryl St. John's, Heaven Can Wait

The pressure of commitment!

Being almost too late for this month’s TBR Challenge, I quickly checked the mountains and piles and shelves of unread books for something appropriate—a book published before 2000. After a few frantic moments—have I really read all my old skool books already???—I found the perfect tome. I give you:

Heaven Can Wait, by Cheryl St. John

Sensuality rating: Steamy

This is Ms St John’s second published novel, prequel to Rain Shadow¹. Both novels were published by Harlequin Historical back in the dark ages (1994).

 Please be warned that there’s a lot of religion as part of the story, though not in the way that usually annoys the bejesus out of me.

The novel is set in 1888 Pennsylvania. The heroine, Lydia Beker, is a member of the historical religious commune known as the Harmony Society. The hero, Jakob Neubauer, is also of German descent, but a farmer, one of the Outsiders whose heathenish ways the Colonists abhor.

This premise would be conflict enough for me, to be honest—how do you reconcile such different views of the world? It’s all good and well to long for freedom from drudgery, but the cultural shock would still be there, even if Jakob is not rich and life on a farm is no ride on the park with grooms and maids in attendance.

Ms St. John, however, added extraneous conflict in the form of a mentally unstable sister-in-law who is obsessed with Jakob.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here is the back cover blurb: (more…)

Willaful review: Scandalous Love by Brenda Joyce

Sensuality rating: steamy

The theme for this month’s TBR challenge is “Old School.” The definition is a book published before 2000, but I say if you’re going to kick it old school, you might as well go for the real thing. But I can’t deal with hardcore bodice-rippers like Kathleen Woodiwiss or Bertrice Small, so my go to gal is Brenda Joyce. I picked Scandalous Love, which I believe finishes up the Bragg Saga for me, except for the hard to find/expensive Dark Fires.

As it turned out, Scandalous Love is fairly mild, as befitting a book with the single most boring cover in romance history. (I suppose it could have been worse.)  It does start with a classic misunderstanding: Big, sexy Hadrian, the Duke of Clayborough, meets big, sexy Lady Nicole Bragg Shelton at a masquerade ball, and assumes she’s someone’s promiscuous and available wife. (Which could not actually have happened, because her correct title would have clued him in immediately that she was single.  This is not even the most ludicrous example of disregarding accuracy for the sake of plot in the book.) (more…)

Willaful Review: But That Was Yesterday

My read for SuperWendy’s “New To You Author” TBR challenge is also a big step out of my comfort zone. My associations with “Native American” romance are so bad, I wouldn’t even have owned But That Was Yesterday, if it weren’t part of an anthology. But I happened to read the author’s note about alcoholism and stereotyping, and was intrigued enough to give it a try. This new to me author may well be my next glom, because it’s one terrific book.

The main characters are Sage Parker, a Lakota alcoholic who’s trying to rebuild the life he pissed away through drinking, and Megan McBride, a white engineer who works with him on a road project. When Megan asks Sage for help in dealing with another Indian whose drinking is interfering with work, Sage sums Megan up quickly — and accurately — as a well-meaning bleeding heart, with no genuine understanding whatsoever of what it means to be Indian or alcoholic.

“He saw through her. She was a caretaker, a do-gooder, pure and simple. That was the characteristic that drew them to one another, and the one he had to avoid.

Still, he wondered what she had seen when she looked at him through a woman’s eyes.”

Despite frequent clashes over her naivete and interference, Megan and Sage develop a friendship and Sage begins to share some of his personal identity with her. This was my favorite part of the book: I thought the portrait of Sage was wonderful, because he’s neither completely Americanized nor mystically “other” — rather, he’s a believable person whose personality includes elements from both of the cultures he’s lived in. I think this was most profoundly expressed in the context of Sage’s alcoholism, because part of fighting it has been embracing the spiritual ideas he grew up with and then discarded:

“He remembered when prayer had been suggested to Megan at Medicine Wheel [an AA-like group Sage started]; he’d had the sense that she’d rejected the idea as ineffective. He remembered a time when it had been suggested to him and he’d laughed, too.” (more…)

Azteclady reviews Zoë Archer's, Warrior

Apparently I’ve managed to keep up with SLWendy’s TBR Challenge for the third month in a row! (given how crazy my work schedule is, and how little reviewing mojo I seem to have these days, I am honestly amazed by this). This month’s theme, a new to me author. Drumroll and welcome to…

Warrior, by Zoë Archer

Despite having read many positive reviews of Ms Archer’s Blades of the Rose, to the point where the lot of them exist physically in the humongous, ever growing, mountain range of a TBR pile, I had been resistant to, you know, actually read them. What if I didn’t like them?

Well, I should have trusted the instinct that made me grab them in the first place, for I enjoyed Warrior very much indeed.

From the back cover:

To most people, the realm of magic is the stuff of nursery rhymes and dusty libraries. But for the Blades of the Rose, it’s quite real, and in danger of being misused by a powerful enemy…

In hot pursuit…

The vicious attack Capt. Gabriel Huntley witnesses in a dark alley sparks a chain of events that will take him to the ends of the Earth and beyond—where what is real and what is imagined become terribly confused. Intrigue, danger, and a beautiful woman in distress—just what he needs.

In hotter water…

Raised thousand of miles from England, Thalia Burgess is no typial Victorian lady. A good thing, since as a Blade, she’s trying to protect a priceless magical artifact. Huntley’s assistance might come in handy, though she has to keep him in the dark. But this distractingly handsome soldier isn’t easy to deceive…

Despite the wonderful covers, there is not much steampunk in this series (or perhaps it’s more evident in later installments). The premise of the series is this: (more…)

Azteclady Review: Sam's Creed by Sarah McCarty

This month’s TBR Challenge theme is catching up with a series. Well, I just had the right book languishing in my humongous TBR mountain range. It’s been nigh on four years since I read and reviewed Caine’s Reckoning, and almost as long has Sam’s Creed been languishing on the shelves, unread.

Sam’s Creed, by Sarah McCarty.

The second title in the Hell’s Eight series, Sam’s Creed is set a few months after the events of Caine’s Reckoning. To sum it up, the other seven to Caine’s eighth are following up on every rumor about stolen white women in the territory, looking for Ari Blake, Desi’s twin sister. In the course of this search, Sam pretty much stumbles across his own woman, Isabella Montoya.

A disclaimer, I think, applies here. This is an erotic romance. Not only is there sex in this book, there is quite graphic sex and quite a bit of it, with plenty of graphic language to go along with it. So, if you object to either or these, you may want to refrain from reading the review—let alone the book.

Let me be upfront about the fact that I did not enjoy this novel nearly as much as I did the previous one. Fact is, it was a rather big letdown. However, it is a testament to the appeal of Ms McCarty’s voice that I managed to sail through all 400+ pages of it in three, four sittings, without any major derailments in my reading, despite the things that irked me about the book.

First irritant, the back cover blurb: (more…)

Azteclady does Karina Bliss's, Mr. Imperfect

I can’t remember who recommended this book to me, but having read and enjoyed at least two other stories by Ms Bliss, I was happy to get my mittens on it. Of course, like countless other books I am ecstatic to get, it then languished in the humongous TBR Mountain Range—until SLWendy’s TBR Challenge brought it to mind. Happily so, I might add.

Mr. Imperfect, by Karina Bliss

Published in 2006, the cover claims that this is Ms Bliss’ first published novel.¹ I have to say, it’s a wonderful start to a career. Let me begin with a couple of warnings: There are some tropes in this story that usually drive me nuts—for example, if you haven’t seen a person in fourteen years, it’s not likely you can still love them. You love your memories of them and of the two of you together, but you don’t know the reality of that person in the present so…

Then there is the ‘well, because of the will’ that sets up the current conflict between the protagonists—contrived barely starts to describe it. Finally, the cute kid—I’m one of those curmudgeons who usually prefers to have no children or babies in her romances. Sue me.

Despite all of the above, I thoroughly enjoyed Mr Imperfect.

Here’s the back cover blurb: (more…)

Azteclady does Penny Jordan's, So Close and No Closer

This novel has been in the monstrous TBR shelves for…well, at least a couple of years, but probably more. I have already failed January’s installment of SLWendy’s TBR Challenge, but given Ms Jordan’s recent passing, I feel it fitting to review it nonetheless.

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So Close and No Closer, by Penny Jordan

Originally released in 1989, this category romance definitely reflects the mores of the day, though both it and Ms Jordan were popular enough to warrant a Collector’s Edition re-release in 1991. There were several things I liked about this story, not the least of which is the setting, a lovely village somewhere near Cambridge, England¹.

The back cover blurb is typical of the time (though really, it doesn’t seem the misleading has changed all that much): (more…)